Uber just edged ahead in the driverless car arms race.
The company made a huge move Wednesday when it released its self-driving car to the public for the first time. As part of its pilot program, select Uber users in Pittsburgh will be able to hail and ride in a driverless car. At first, the trips will be for free, but an Uber spokesperson said that may change in time.
A number of car companies are aiming to do this, but Uber is beating them all to the punch.
Ford, for example, plans to roll out its first fully autonomous cars for ride-sharing by 2021. Google is aiming for 2020, and Tesla is planning to make its vehicles part of car-sharing network once its cars are fully autonomous.
Why do all of these companies want to get into some sort of ride-hailing service?
Because automakers and tech companies alike predict that the traditional car ownership model will dwindle with the rise of self-driving cars. The theory goes, as cars become more autonomous, it will become cheaper for consumers to hail a driverless car than to own a personal vehicle.
While auto sales may decline, companies see a huge opportunity in rolling out autonomous cars in a fleet setting to transport people wherever they want to go. But car companies and tech firms will have to play catch-up with Uber in building up a ride-sharing network.
Uber has built up one of the largest ride-sharing networks in the world. After all, it’s the most popular taxi app in 108 countries. That means Uber needs to focus on getting the driverless tech part figured out, while other companies have to build a ride-sharing network and get their tech up to snuff.
I took a ride in Uber’s driverless car over on Monday and it’s technology is pretty impressive. Yes, there are times it fails. But having been in Uber’s self-driving car, it manages a difficult city like Pittsburgh extraordinarily well. It can also recognise traffic lights, which isn’t something we can say for Tesla yet, unless the latest software update Version 8.0 introduces that new feature.
Uber introducing the public to its driverless tech, even if it isn’t fully ready and still needs a driver and engineer present, is a genius way to expose people to the concept of getting picked up in a driverless Uber.
Like most driverless car companies, there are still ways to go before an Uber can be fully autonomous. But it competes soundly with Tesla, which is really the only competitor in the public right now.
Overall, a lot can happen in the next few years. But my advice: don’t sleep on Uber.
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