Get a cab: how driverless taxis could affect our social lives
Ordering a cab through an app is a pretty standard element of your average night out these days. Waiting at a taxi rank, hailing one from the street or calling a cab firm are quickly becoming things of the past. And, in just a few years’ time, so could the taxi drivers themselves.
How far away are the first driverless fleets from hitting the streets? Well, technically, it’s already happened.
THE BRAND RANKINGS
In Phoenix, Arizona, Google’s well-publicised Waymo mission of bringing fully self-driving cars to the world is fully underway. In fact, they have a permanent driverless ride sharing programme operating as of December 2018. While the vehicles themselves are completely driverless, the rides aren’t. At least, not yet. Trained drivers are still sitting at the wheel, ready to take over should the situation call for it. But soon Waymo will decide to remove them from the process entirely, offering completely driver-free rides.
So far, so good. Waymo could well be operating the very first fleet of driverless vehicles within the foreseeable future. And, once it starts, it will have a willing client-list of several hundred volunteers-turned-customers who have experienced it first-hand.
But competition is fierce, and Google isn’t the only player in the field. Late in 2018, Toyota and Uber partnered-up to take on Waymo’s emerging market-dominance, investing $500million in a venture which could see Uber providing the customers and Toyota providing the vehicles. Other notable partnerships include Volkswagen and Inteland Aptiv and BMW with the latter making serious headway with test-drives in their service Lyft. There are also similar offerings in Russia, and Dubai – all at a similar level of testing, and all keen to commercialise first.
Addison Lee, Europe’s largest car hire company, have partnered with Oxbotica in hope of setting up a driverless answer to Uber in London, with hopes that it will be fully operational by 2021 as per a government pilot scheme. There is also testing for a similar scheme in Scotland underway.
Another player in the game, which could rival both Waymo and Uber’s dominance, is the French company Navya, who are working to provide an electric and completely eco-friendly driverless solution. Their testing has been going on in Las Vegas since 2017, with autonomous shuttles ferrying up to 11 passengers at a time around a half-mile loop. They also have plans and funding secured for full-sized buses – well ahead of anyone else.
However, so far, none of the major or minor players in this game have reached the ‘no safety passenger required’ phases of testing. Not even Navya. But it really is only a matter of time before one of them kicks it up a gear.
Once driverless taxi fleets become the norm, what will that mean for the social lives of their passengers?