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Uber's contribution to the self-driving-future:

 

Uber, the ‘Everyone’s private driver’-taxi service app, and world’s most successful start-up of 2015, scored a net revenue of over half a billion dollars in that same year. Money that CEO Travis Kalanick decided to spend on changing Uber’s slogan to start ‘Evolving the way the world moves’.

 

Apparently that evolvement meant investigating and incorporating the build of the Uber self-driving car. By removing the driver from the equation (the largest cost in a taxi ride) Uber could drop prices to 44 cents for a private ride in a standard sedan and 8 cents for a shared ride in a two-seater. After the announcement in the beginning of 2015, Uber has kept much of the development a secret. There are only few details known on the technical aspects of the progress. More has been written about Uber’s strategical moves. Here are some of the most important specifics.

 

© ATMNBL concept car

Uber was first mentioned as a major player of the self-driving-future when it became BFF’s with Google in 2013. Google pumped more than $250 million into Uber, Google chief legal officer David Drummond joined Uber’s board and Google added Uber integrations to its Google Maps app. Later Uber announced it would purchase 2,500 driverless cars from Google and Uber would share data from its local transportation services with Google to improve its autonomous car-routing algorithms. Together they could have built out the network of self-driving taxi cars of the future.

 

But the friendship went south. Uber and Google went from love struck partners to teeth-clenched rivals. In the beginning of 2015 Uber announced it would go into direct competition with Google’s self-driving car project. The company started building a research lab in Pittsburgh to explore the use of self-driving cars and acquired deCarta, a mapping start-up, weaning itself away from Google Maps.

 

 

Carnegie Mellon Research Centre

The Carnegie Mellon Autonomous Driving Collaborative Research Lab was formed after the Pittsburgh University’s driverless car won the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007. Uber first hired away dozens of senior researchers from CMU’s Robotics Engineering team and later announced a partnership to together form the Uber Advanced Technologies Centre, ran by Brian McClendon, Google’s former vice president of engineering. The main focus lies on research and development, primarily in the areas of mapping and vehicle safety and autonomy technology.

 

 

Cars and Maps

No more Google Maps or Google Cars, so Uber had to acquire cars and maps somewhere else. Mid 2015, Uber started knocking on other doors, one after the other. After mapping start-up deCarta, Uber acquired Microsoft Bing’s mapping assets, including 100 Microsoft engineers, who ‘worked to get image data (3D, aerial and street footage) into Bing’s search engine’. At the same time Uber made an offer of $3 billion for Nokia's Here maps division, but was beat by an alliance between BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz.

 

Also for cars, Uber presented themselves to Google’s main competitors. First Tesla CEO Elon Musk mentioned mid 2015 that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told him that in 2020, if Tesla cars are autonomous as predicted, he would buy all of them (500,000 estimated). Half a year later news came out that Uber had bought 100,000 autonomous S-Class Mercedes Benz cars, which Mercedes hopes to release also in 2020. Lastly in May 2016 Uber announced a close partnership with Toyota.

 

 

Driverless cars of driverless taxis?

The future will be driverless. That is certain. That there will be a Uber self-driving car is almost certain. But what is uncertain, and what really makes Uber an interesting main player, is the question of car ownership in the self-driving-future. Will people still buy their cars or will the future be swarming with driverless taxis? In answering this question we see a big divide between different stakeholders.

 

Uber, being a taxi company, obviously chooses the latter. A car costs around a year salary and sits idle 90% of the day. Driverless taxis would be cheaper and more efficient, according to Uber. Other important key players like Google or Baidu share that believe. Also General Motors’ partnership with Lyft, Uber’s biggest rival, gives away GM’s vision.

 

But not all share the same opinion: Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault-Nissan, said during a CNBC technology event that “The car is going to become a kind of working space, or living space, because you can connect, interface, video conference… You're going to have your own photos, your own email, your music, your everything. It will become like your iPhone, you want it belonging to you. Based on another argument also Klas Bendrik, chief information officer at Volvo Cars, disagrees: "You have a different transportation need when you go from the cities to the suburban areas and if you go to the countryside you have a different transportation need. This is why you’d still want your own car.”

 

Last updated: 31/03/2016
Sources: The Guardian, CNBC, Fusion, Engadget, Bizjournals, Mashable, Business Insider, Bloomberg, TechInsider, Archive Darpa, TechCrunch, TechTimes, Computerworld, TechCrunch