The real war for Uber’s future began this week.
Even though the company plans a sci-fi flying-car announcement, its real (and more realistic) ambition is to replace its network of human-driven vehicles with a fleet of self-driving cars.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick even said as much in an interview with Business Insider last year when Uber announced it would start testing self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh.
But Waymo, the Alphabet company that spun out of Google’s self-driving car project, is battling Uber on its own turf. Waymo announced on Tuesday that it has been quietly testing its automated Uber-like system in Phoenix, Arizona, another city Uber has been testing in since early this year. Now, Waymo will let anyone in the area sign up to test the service for free.
Waymo’s ambition is clear: to use its near decade of expertise in self-driving cars to create a better, safer version of Uber. And it wants to get there before Uber does.
It’s the next battlefront in Waymo’s budding war with Uber. On one front, you have Waymo testing its self-driving, on-demand car service in the same city Uber is. On the other front, Waymo is suing Uber, claiming the company stole key self-driving technology called lidar.
And if Waymo wins its lawsuit, it could dismantle Uber’s stated goal to one day automate all of its cars, giving Waymo a clear path to dominate the future of on-demand transportation.
In short, Waymo is trying to be the next Uber before Uber can be the next Uber.
There’s no way to predict which company will win the war today, but it is clear that neither company wants to come in second place. According to Kalanick himself, it’d be a disaster for his company if it can’t be the first to a self-driving car service.
“If we are not tied for first, then the person who is in first, or the entity that’s in first, then rolls out a ride-sharing network that is far cheaper or far higher-quality than Uber’s, then Uber is no longer a thing,” Kalanick told Business Insider in last year’s interview.
One of those entities Kalanick was referring to?