Taxis and Other Driving Services
One area in which self-driving cars stand to make a huge commercial impact is in taxi and driving services. Driverless cars could be industry-changing for taxi services and companies like Uber and Lyft.
Once Level 4 full automation comes to market, ride-sharing services would no longer need to hire drivers. Their vehicles could be operated completely by computer, with riders utilizing apps to input destinations and the companies controlling cars remotely as they move from rider to rider. Autonomous cars would be far more efficient for these services, as they never need a break and would only have to stop to refuel or for mechanical issues, simply moving from one rider straight to the next. Further, full automation would also likely increase the efficiency with which cars move from one rider to the next, as all relevant route information (traffic, road closures, etc.) would be updated in the car’s navigation system in real time, allowing companies to easily determine which vehicle could get to a waiting rider in the quickest and most efficient way.
In Singapore, a taxi company is getting ready to launch a fully autonomous Level 4 fleet. These cars will not need human drivers, and this will be the first time that fully self-driving cars will be used in an urban commercial setting. To read more about the planned project in Singapore, you can visit http://fortune.com/2016/04/05/singapore-driverless-car-taxi-nutonomy/
In Dubai, an app-based taxi service has partnered with a futuristic transportation company and will be bringing driverless pods to the streets soon.
But these efforts are not limited to Asia. General Motors Company and Lyft Inc. have announced that before May of 2017, they will begin testing a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric taxis on public roads. Details of the autonomous-taxi testing program are still being worked out, but a Lyft executive has stated it will include customers in a yet-to-be disclosed city. Customers will have the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of the pilot program when hailing a Lyft car from the company’s mobile app. https://mishtalk.com/2016/05/07/google-chrysler-team-up-on-minivans-gm-lyft-test-self-driving-electric-taxis/
Google and Uber are also in a battle for the driverless car market, with Google testing its own vehicles while also investing in Uber. http://www.theverge.com/2015/12/16/10309960/google-vs-uber-competition-self-driving-cars
The impact of this on society is significant. Uber and Lyft have already caused severe disruption in the taxicab and “black car” industry, and the companies continue to expand beyond the major cities and reach into less populous areas. SheTaxi, a company employing female drivers targeting female customers (for increased physical safety), seems like a service that will take off. http://shetaxis.com/ But the prospect of abolishing the need for drivers, whatever the gender, will be too tempting for Uber, Lyft and, yes, even SheTaxi. No more sick days, no more vacations, no more benefits – just cars available 24/7. True, humans will still be needed to clean, re-fuel, and maintain the vehicles (although it is not too hard to imagine that robots can be developed to handle at least the first two of those tasks, and perhaps even the third) but these employers will be driven (pardon the pun) to replace humans to the extent possible.
Of particular note to the taxi industry, Airbus announced in 2016 that it was working on a flying driverless taxi that could be summoned by a rider's smartphone. Although this technology seems far-fetched, an executive with the company stated that some products could be on the market in as soon as ten years.