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Is Uber the Future of Robotic Taxis?

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Is Uber the Future of Robotic Taxis?
Uber and its competitors, such as Lyft, have already upended the personal transportation market, to the delight of customers and the annoyance of taxi companies and some local governments.

Its model of ride sharing, in which ordinary people with a working car use a smartphone app to get riders for pay, has proven to be a boon for drivers who need a little extra money and people who cannot drive a car themselves, due to age, disability, or inebriation.

According to Motherboard (1), Uber proposes to end the idea of driving a car and, indeed, owning a private automobile.

The key to this disruptive change that is in store is the driverless car. For the past several years, companies such as Google (2) have been working on motor vehicles that do not need a driver to get from point A to point B.

Using a combination of sensors such as radar, lidar, optical scanners, and on-board computers, these cars will drive themselves. The passenger, in theory at least, will sit back and do something else with his or her time, such as work on a laptop, watch a video, read a book, or even take a nap.

Pros and Cons of the Technology

The technology is not quite ready for the road. Uber is testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh with a person at the wheel ready to take over if something unexpected happens. Most states have laws that mandate that “driverless cars” will have someone ready to take manual control at a moment’s notice.

Uber has recognized that car ownership, while liberating in a number of ways, can be a hassle. Between the cost of payments, fuel, insurance, and maintenance, cars can be an expensive proposition. A privately-owned car spends most of its time in the garage or the driveway.

If the cost of riding a driverless Uber car can be brought below that of owning and operating a private vehicle, then the very idea of owning a car becomes obsolete. Why own a car when transportation to anywhere is just minutes away with a smartphone app?

On the plus side, a world where cars are driverless and rented has many advantages and disadvantages, according to an article in the Federalist (3).

Since driverless cars are not subject to road rage, flouting the traffic laws, or distracted driving, they will be far less prone to accidents, with savings regarding lives and property.

Fewer accidents also mean lower insurance costs, which would be borne directly by the car company and not the passenger. Driverless cars will operate more efficiently, cutting down on traffic snarls.

People who are currently not allowed to drive, due to age and infirmity, will be able to go anywhere they need to go without having to rely on public transportation (unless taking the bus turns out to be cheaper and more convenient.) Drunk driving accidents will be reduced because people will be able to summon a ride at the end of a night out on the town.

irobot car

Impact of Driverless Cars

Driverless cars will destroy jobs, from used car salesmen, to limo drivers, to many auto mechanics.

The auto industry will change from a business-to-customer model to a business-to-business model.

Law enforcement agencies will see income from writing tickets begin to dry up. State and local governments are going to have to scramble to adapt by passing new traffic laws. Driverless cars can be hacked if the security systems can be breached (4).

The idea of a car culture in which bigger or faster cars are considered a status symbol will not go away entirely.

Some people will still insist on owning private motor vehicles, just as some people own private planes. But personal transportation will lose some of its glamour and will just become something mundane, convenient, but perhaps a little boring.

References & Image Credits:
(1) Motherboard
(2) Google: Self Driving Car
(3) The Federalist
(4) TSW: Could the Next Terrorist Attack Involve Car Hacking?

Originally published on

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