Those booking a taxi in Pittsburgh from ride sharing firm Uber could find themselves being picked up in a driverless car. Uber have some 100 specially-designed Volvo XC90s providing driverless taxi rides in certain areas of the Pennsylvanian city as part of their trials – but the $60 billion multinational company have been beaten to the punch by Nutonomy who operate a small fleet of driverless Mitsubishi i-Mievs and Renault Zoes providing taxi rides in a 2.5 mile square area of Singapore.
The driverless taxi revolution?
Far from being some fictional notion such as the robot-driven Johnny Cabs in the ‘Total Recall’ film, driverless taxis may be with us sooner than thought. Certainly Uber drivers are expressing concern especially those operating in Pittsburgh where the trials are being undertaken: one described himself and other drivers as “like placeholders until the technology comes out”.
Uber is certainly committed to driverless technology; they run a self-driving research facility in Pittsburgh, so residents are used to seeing driverless vehicles on the roads. Their founder, Travis Kalanick, says the future of his company and all transportation lies in driverless vehicles. They’ve signed a £230 million deal with Volvo to work together on developing the technology.
Many can see a time, maybe not too far into the future, when buyers can choose a driverless car along with other types such as city car, saloon, MPV, diesel or electric powered.
Meanwhile in Singapore, Nutonomy hopes to expand its driverless fleet by 2018 and predict driverless taxis could reduce the number of cars on the roads from some 900,000 to 300,000.
With so many cars being removed from the roads, it clearly has a positive implication for the city in terms of pollution, congestion and the amount of space freed up due to less parking being required. These benefits would naturally apply to other cities and indeed trials are due to begin in London in 2017 although this isn’t for driverless taxis, more a trial by Volvo to try out driverless cars generally.
Companies such as Uber claim they’d save considerable sums of money with fleets of driverless cars.
Driverless taxis not quite human free yet
While passengers of driverless taxis report the almost eerie sight of their cab moving around as if being driven by a ghost (the steering wheel turns on its own and so forth), there is a person sitting in the car ready to step in if something goes wrong. In the case of the Nutonomy taxis in Singapore, there may be two people; one ready to intervene by controlling the car if needs be, and the other surrounded by test equipment and a computer collating data. In fact, there’s barely room for the passengers at present.
Passengers don’t have to accept a ride from a driverless taxi; in Singapore they sign up for the Nutonomy service, whereas with Uber in Pittsburgh they’re given the option of taking a driverless taxi. If they do, the fare is waived in return for effectively taking part in the trial.
Driverless tech on its way
Along with the well documented trials and research by tech giants Apple and Google, there’s a big commitment in self driving car tech by companies such as Uber who clearly believe the driverless taxi is the future. It makes sense; with over half of new cars sold in countries like the UK featuring at least some autonomous systems so pointing the way to a driverless future, it’s logical that this tech will extend to the taxi industry.