The cost of Uber and autonomy
Back in May 2014, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told the Code Conference in Palo Verdes, Calif., that Uber could get too pricey because passengers are paying for their driver’s time as well as his car.
“When there’s no other dude in the car,” explained Kalanick, “the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.”
This year, Uber partnered with two universities to “build out mapping and safety features,” the ride-hailing company said in a release, dropping a second hint about their shift towards driverless cars.
The rise of autonomous cars, though, would herald the unemployment of many Uber drivers (or at least the end of their evening/weekend/pocket money jobs). But Kalanick doesn’t think they’ll be out of work anytime soon. After the conference, he tweeted, “Drivers on @uber_nyc making $90k/yr Driverless car is a multidecade transition. Let’s take a breath and I’ll see you in the year 2035”.
But whenever autonomous cars come out, whether they’re by Uber, Apple, Google or an automaker, they’ll still have to deal with our current roads and human drivers.
“We’re not going to rebuild all of our infrastructure to accommodate autonomous vehicles,” Jim Sayer, deployment director at the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center, said in a video. “The vehicles are going to have to learn to operate on the legacy system we have.”
So at Mcity, Michigan’s 32-acre test environment, connected and autonomous cars drive on twisty gravel roads, navigate train crossings, mailboxes and pedestrians, and move through tunnels that block out wireless signals. The hope is to implement
strategies that work, fix what needs fixing and eventually move the cars from Mcity to the streets of Ann Arbor and from there, to all of southeastern Michigan.
“So we move from a very controlled test environment in Mcity,” Peter Sweatman, director of the Mobility Transformation Center, said in a video, “into Ann Arbor and across the region with all the conditions that are representative of what’s happening broadly across the country.”