In May of 2014, Uber’s chief executive Travis Kalanick said that he plans to replace human drivers with self-driving cars. Kalanick said, “The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car — you’re paying for the other dude in the car.” This philosophy suggests taking the driver away to put into play the many potential benefits of driverless car technology, ultimately making car ownership obsolete.
Google, which invested $258 million in Uber in 2013, has been very open about its own driverless car technology. Is it a coincidence both companies are driving pretty hard toward being the leader of a fleet of driverless taxis? It turns out that Google’s chief counsel, David Drummond, has been on the board of directors for Uber since 2013. Drummond has brought Google’s intentions to Uber’s board, and because of his investment in both companies, Uber may ask him to resign from the committee.
Uber has opened an Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh and hired over 50 scientists to help get behind the wheel of the driverless car revolution. All signs point to an intense rivalry, with both companies prepared to offer a driverless ride-hailing service. Besides facing each other, Google and Uber have other challenges to contend with. How effectively can self-driving cars communicate with emergency vehicles, traffic police, and inclement weather? And what about human refusal to adopt the technology?
However, the benefits are hard to ignore. Self-driving cars could potentially:
- Reduce death and injury on the roads
- Improve traffic flow
- Decrease parking demand
- Offer access for the young, elderly, and those with physical limitations
- Increase efficiency for delivery and distribution
If it works, this competition could really heat up with the services that self-driving technology could provide, like rides to work, airport trips, package delivery, and taxiing those who have too much to drink, all while manually operated cars collect dust on the side of the road.
But will this technology ever get its tires on the ground? And if so, who will get there first?