Need a Ride? Call a Self-Driving Taxi!

R. Bhattacharyya

Summary Bullets:

  • Ford announced plans for self-driving taxis and delivery services; it expects to launch its fleet in Washington, D.C. in 2021.
  • Ford is one of many companies around the globe that is developing commercial autonomous vehicles.

Soon, if you need a ride to the airport, to the pub, or just around town to run errands, you’ll have another decision to make. Do you hop in a cab? Request an Uber? Or, perhaps… you take a self-driving taxi. What just a few years ago seemed like futuristic technology right out of a sci-fi movie will be here before you know it.

Ford became the latest large auto manufacturer to unveil its plans for autonomous driving services. The company revealed that it will start offering commercial self-driving taxis and delivery services in Washington, D.C. and other yet-to-be-named cities by as early as 2021 – a mere two years away. Testing is slated to begin in 2019.

Numerous car manufacturers, including Daimler, BMW, GM, and Tesla, have been investing in autonomous vehicles. But for the general public, the AI-driven technology has been more of a futuristic vision – possibly within the reach of a select few able to afford to purchase a car equipped with the latest and greatest, but out of range for the average person.

All that is about to change. Plans for shared, self-driving vehicle services have been making headlines. At the end of 2017, GM announced it would begin offering self-driving taxis in 2019. Alphabet’s Waymo already has an Early Rider program in place in Tempe, Arizona, offering free rides around town in its minivans. Russia’s Yandex is testing self-driving taxis in the small town of Innopolis. Autonomous driving technology company ZMP and taxi company Hinomaru Kotsu have launched paid autonomous vehicle taxi services in Tokyo. Daimler has plans to launch a self-driving shuttle in the U.S., and it has received a license to test autonomous driving in Beijing. These initiatives mean that self-driving services are approaching reality for the general public, at least those living in major metro areas.

Public perception of the safety of autonomous vehicles took a hit when a self-driving Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian and a Tesla driver was killed when his car struck a large truck. At the moment, many states require that a back-up driver must be in an autonomous vehicle, meaning that providers of the services still need to pay wages to an actual human being, impacting potential profits generated by a ride-hailing service.

But who knows how long that will last? Last year, California expanded testing laws to allow for remote monitoring of autonomous vehicles, instead of requiring a safety driver inside the vehicle.

Imagine arriving in a new city and looking for a ride to your hotel. No more worrying that the cab driver is taking you for a ride. But what about Uber? Will you miss chatting with your Uber driver? Will you miss the local restaurant recommendations you usually receive? Welcome to a world without small talk.

What do you think?

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