Source: Google Blog
Self-driving cars are now closer to reality than sci-fi. Several automotive giants already report being into late stages of pilots, and more progressive tech companies like Google and Tesla are already testing out those driverless vehicles on the roads.
Ridesharing industry has already disrupted travel in many ways. In fact, the recent strike by Uber and Lyft drivers proves this. The action made national news because it had the potential to impact so many. Ridesharing has also impacted the car rental industry and taxi services, much like Airbnb has done to the hotel industry. Now, something new has the potential to shake things up again, autonomous ridesharing.
Autonomous ridesharing combines popular ridesharing or hailing services with emerging, autonomous vehicle technology. In other words, in the future, your Lyft or Uber could be driverless.
Waymo, Ford, Lyft, Uber, and other companies are making real strides towards combining autonomous vehicles with ridesharing services. Waymo has been testing autonomous ridesharing in the Phoenix area. Ford has plans to use autonomous vehicles to disrupt ride hailing and delivery services.
Clearly, the major players in ridesharing are buying into autonomous vehicles. However, it remains to be seen whether or not autonomous vehicles will become commonplace. There’s always the possibility that much of this is about theatrics and publicity, not so much about mainstream adoption. Still, in one way or another, autonomous vehicles and ridesharing services are going to combine.
So, what does that mean for the rest of us? Below, are the positives and negatives of autonomous vehicle technology and ridesharing services.
Perception is very important. In fact, it can have more of an impact than reality. As of now, many people have difficulty imagining feeling safe in a driverless car. This is in spite of the fact that self driving cars have a better track record when it comes to safety.
This leads to an important worry. Will people willingly get into cars that don’t have a driver? Perhaps not if they feel they will be at increased risk.
Right now, ridesharing, business model is based on that of taxi services. A customer needs a ride, they purchase that ride, and they pay for it. Long term customers might use gift cards, or put money ‘on account’ to avoid creating new transactions, but that’s the extent of it.
With autonomous vehicles, riders might engage with these services differently. This could include purchasing ride subscriptions. This has the most potential happening in areas where autonomous vehicles are operated in fleets, and drive in routes similar to public transportation. Imagine buying a year long subscription that enables you to hop on any autonomous vehicle in a fleet of cars that services an entire metropolitan area.
Autonomous vehicles might be statistically safer than other vehicles, but that doesn’t mean they are in the clear entirely. People have been hurt or killed in accidents involving autonomous vehicles. The cause of these accidents must be investigated and dealt with. In order for self driving cars to earn mainstream acceptance, car manufacturers and ridesharing services must show a firm commitment to the following:
- Establishing clear safety standards
- Sharing safety related insights and information with other companies in this space.
- Supporting safety regulations that ensure the safety of customers and the general public.
- Establishing safety testing protocols.
- Allowing accidents to be thoroughly investigated by third parties.
- Emphasizing transparency when accidents or near accidents occur.
This is also an area where public education needs to be the focus. Until the average person understands that autonomous vehicles are often safer, they’re perceptions won’t change.
Of course, accidents do happen. When they do, the matter of liability can be an issue. David Brauns, founding partner at Brauns Law, PC says, “When someone becomes injured by an unmanned vehicle, they deserve to be compensated fairly for their injuries. However, determining just who is liable can be challenging. It’s a new area of law where there aren’t necessarily a lot of precedents. It is a wise idea for owners of autonomous vehicles to ensure that they have adequate insurance coverage.”
Speaking of accidents and injuries, a pedestrian was recently struck and killed by a self driving vehicle. Further investigations into the tragedy, and how self driving cars interact with their surroundings revealed something very troublesome. People with dark skin are more likely to be struck by autonomous vehicles.
Of course that’s not by design. However, it does reveal a frustrating lack of awareness on the part of those making and testing these vehicles. How is it that nobody took darker skin tones into consideration when they built and tested the sensors that detect pedestrians and other objects? Oversights like this create a lack of trust.
Some people believe that ridesharing will kill public transportation. That could be a dangerous thing for low SES individuals who rely on public transit to get to school, work, shopping, and elsewhere. Public transportation is significantly less expensive than roadsharing. Without that option, low income families could struggle with accessing goods and services.
What happens if this is the case? For one thing, ridesharing will see wider adoption in areas where people can afford to use these services regularly. In areas where people cannot afford to use these services, there could be a negative, economic impact of people lose access to public transportation. There might even be an environmental impact as low income families hold onto vehicles that emit large amounts of pollutants.
If Lyft, Uber, and other companies begin to use fleets of autonomous vehicles, this could bring about the demise of public transit more rapidly than expected. Until ridesharing services find a way to offer prices scaled to the needs of low income individuals, this is going to remain a concern.
Economic concerns aside, there are certainly benefits to having networks of driverless cars available in urban centers. These fleets, especially those containing vehicles that are able to transport groups of passengers could mean fewer vehicles on the road. This could lead to less traffic congestion and air pollution.
When ATMs first came on the market, there was much speculation that bank tellers would be replaced by machines. That didn’t happen. Instead, thanks to ATM’s banks were able to serve more customers, and expand their offerings. The same could happen for ridesharing services thanks to the introduction of autonomous vehicles.
There are still wide areas that aren’t served by ride hailing services whatsoever. Then there are those that are grossly underserved. For example, a rural area outside of a city could technically be within the service area of Uber and Lyft, but not practically. There might be a lack of drivers at most times, or riders could find themselves waiting a significant amount of time to be picked up. Driverless vehicles could help with this by allowing rideshare companies to provide services where there is a lack of drivers.
There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to autonomous vehicles and ridesharing platforms. While the end result of this may be improved transportation systems, there are still challenges that both rideshare companies and the general public must navigate. Driverless cars might be an inevitability, but it doesn’t seem as if widespread adoption will happen immediately.