Autonomous ride-hailing is the likely end goal for many ride-hailing applications such as Lyft and Uber, but it may take longer than many experts predict to become a reality.
The primary challenges facing autonomous ride-hailing services include the complexity of urban spaces worldwide and artificial intelligence (AI) systems’ ongoing struggle to navigate them. Presently, numerous tech firms, such as Tesla and Waymo, are investing billions to perfect their autonomous transport models.
Autonomous ride-hailing context
During the 2010s, research into autonomous vehicle technologies has grown significantly. During this period, legacy vehicle manufacturers investigated prospective mergers and acquisitions to advance their autonomous vehicle capabilities and maintain their market share within the automotive industry. Meanwhile, ride-hailing companies (like Uber) started entering the autonomous vehicle industry around 2017, with the goal of seeing self-driving vehicles entering public use by 2022.
Unfortunately, existing AI systems have struggled to provide the safety and efficacy needed to operate autonomously in complex urban environments, even in developed countries with standardized street infrastructure. As a result, in 2020, Uber sold its self-driving technology unit to Aurora, a technology startup, with Uber taking a $400 million stake in the company. In 2021, Lyft followed suit by selling its self-driving research and development unit to the Japanese car manufacturer, Toyota, for $550 million.
Meanwhile, Waymo (a company owned by Alphabet) introduced a self-driving robo-taxi service in August 2021. According to Waymo, the robo-taxi service has driven people autonomously for over 20 million collective miles without a single casualty. In contrast, Tesla has been releasing autonomous capabilities at a considerably faster pace, with its autopilot system completing 3.3 billion miles in 2020. Looking forward, both companies, including several Chinese firms, are likely to launch robo-taxi services within limited jurisdictions by the late 2020s.
As automated vehicles become increasingly developed, fewer accidents may take place on roads where these systems are deployed due to AI systems being far more likely to obey road rules and regulations than human drivers. In this future scenario, the late 2030s may see human workers within the transport industry—such as couriers, taxi drivers, and truck drivers—beginning to upskill or change professions entirely as their roles become increasingly automated by intelligent driving systems. Likewise, the systems used in autonomous vehicles could be transposed to different forms of public transport, thereby also leading to workforce changes in the public sector.
By the late 2030s, auto manufacturing companies that do not participate in the autonomous vehicle market will likely be overtaken by autonomous vehicle manufacturers. Meanwhile, automotive companies that succeed in developing reliable autonomous vehicles could pivot to —a see most of their revenue from—offering ride-hailing services offered to individuals and companies for various transport purposes. During this transition period, the price of human-driven cars and human-driven taxis and transport services would likely rise as auto manufacturers gradually reduce their production of such vehicles.
Governments may also collaborate with autonomous driving system developers to ensure that these systems have fail-safes in case of error or malfunction.
Implications of perfected autonomous ride-hailing service.
The wider implications of autonomous ride-hailing services entering public use may include:
- Making transport services increasingly accessible to individuals of lower socioeconomic means, senior citizens, and individuals living with disabilities.
- Lower mortality rates associated with car accidents and drunk driving.
- Significantly increased land-based travel activity by the general public, for both short and long-distance travel, especially given the forecasted cost of autonomous, electric vehicle, ride-hailing services will be minimal compared to equivalent 2022 transport prices.
- Increased population-scale productivity growth rates as vehicle passengers can more freely engage in various work or communication activities during travel.
Question to comment on
- What impact might autonomous ride-hailing services have on your personal and work life? Or even how you plan travel activities?
- Where do you see human drivers continuing to be utilized in a future scenario of widescale adoption of autonomous vehicles?
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