Sunday, May 07, 2017

Fleets of automated taxis?

Christopher Mims writes in the Wall Street Journal,
The first companies to roll out fleets of automated taxis could quickly drive their human-powered competition into oblivion.

...Last week, Alphabet subsidiary Waymo presented evidence it says proves Uber’s former head of self-driving technology stole the technology from Waymo, where he previously worked. If Uber loses, its self-driving technology program could be shut down under trade-secret laws.

...Almost every other major auto maker has announced plans for self-driving cars or a partnership with one of the many technology companies working on self-driving technology.

...All of this is part of what auto makers and ride-hailing companies anticipate will be a larger transition to “transportation-as-a-service”—potentially the end of widespread vehicle ownership in developed countries. Subscribing to such a service for all of a person’s transportation needs within a typical American city could cost anywhere from 10% to 25% what an average consumer now spends on owning, maintaining and insuring a vehicle, says Tony Seba, co-founder of technology think tank RethinkX. Cost savings on that order could lead to rapid adoption akin to the touchscreen smartphone revolution, he argues.

...This disruption hinges on the arrival of dependable autonomous vehicles. And it’s not at all clear when they’ll get here. Tesla’s Elon Musk said last week that one of his vehicles will be ready in two years; Uber plans to have its autonomous vehicle available somewhere around 2021.

...Uber, Lyft and their imitators will eventually cease to exist as stand-alone companies, either going out of business or being acquired by car makers, says Sam Abuelsamid, a senior analyst with Navigant research who specializes in mobility.

...The future of transportation—cheaper, cleaner, less congested—could be great for consumers. It will also open up new sources of revenue for technology companies, the arms dealers of the autonomous-vehicle war. As for Uber, the company faces a difficult choice: Either figure out a way to buy or at least manage an enormous fleet (possibly by going public to foot the bill), or face annihilation by others who will.
Read more here.

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