Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Or Said They Did

I can't tell what these people actually believe or if they're just conning investors.

Uber thought it would have 75,000 autonomous vehicles on the roads this year and be operating driverless taxi services in 13 cities by 2022, according to court documents unsealed last week. To reach those ambitious goals, the ridesharing company, which hopes to go public later this year, was spending $20 million a month on developing self-driving technologies.

The figures, dating back to 2016, paint a picture of a company desperate to meet over-ambitious autonomy targets and one that is willing to spend freely, even recklessly, to get there. As Uber prepares for its IPO later this year, the new details could prove an embarrassing reminder that the company is still trailing in its efforts to develop technology that founder Travis Kalanick called “existential” to Uber’s future.

I was thinking a bit why all of this has been so dumb, and one reason is that the barrier isn't (yet) even just that they can't build a reasonably cheap car, it's they can't build one at all. If I said, "here's eleventy trillion dollars, put a single level 4+/5- self-driving car on the road that would truly work well enough to be a robo taxi that would operate more cheaply than one with a driver within 18 months" I'm pretty sure it couldn't be done. Maybe I'm too pessimistic. Maybe they could with eleventy trillion! But the point is you aren't going to be rolling these things off the assembly line at $100,000 a pop any time soon because you couldn't even roll them off the assembly line at $100,000,000 a pop.

It isn't about making the technology more efficient or cost-effective or whatever, it's about making the technology at all. It just does not exist. They can't say, "well, we can do this, but sadly the sensors cost $10,000,000 per car so we need to figure out how to make them more cheaply." They just can't do it.