Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I Suppose They Can Both Be True

I believe I can fly.

“True autonomy for every single use case, is some ways away,” Khosrowshahi began, acknowledging that the problem is a massive one to solve. But, he suggested that the first Uber autonomous vehicles to be deployed commercially would be on streets relatively soon.

“We will have autonomous cars on the road, I believe within the next 18 months,” he said. “And not as a test case, as a real [use] case out there.”


The Uber CEO described how in, for example, Phoenix, there will be 95% of cases where the company may not have everything mapped perfectly, or the weather might not be perfect, or there could be other factors that will mean Uber will opt to send a driver. “But in 5 percent of cases, we’ll send an autonomous car,” Khosrowshahi said, when everything’s just right, and still the user will be able to choose whether they get an AV or a regular car.

If you can't even handle Phoenix...

R&D is a process, blahblah, but I do think everyone involved just doesn't get (or pretends not to get) that cars that don't go many places just aren't very useful. Fixed or semi-fixed route shared vehicles (shhh: buses) that work this well might be useful, though I think not nearly as useful as people think. The fantasy is finding ways to bring transit to places where transit is not especially good because, in part, it is just too expensive to provide decent service. I do not really see such systems solving this problem, but I might be wrong! The semi-fixed route vision is you run buses on a fixed route, and people can hit the button to divert the bus to make optional stops closer to their house/work/destination. But those diversions take a lot of time and add trip time uncertainty. Too many optional stops and suddenly your 15 minute bus ride is 45 minutes. People don't like that!

And, ultimately, a bus is a bus is a bus is a bus. A bus without a driver is... still a bus. I love buses. Lots of people don't, and while I think that's ridiculous, I have no idea how removing the driver changes that.