Driverless cars once seemed like science-fiction fantasy; however, in recent years several companies have begun serious efforts to develop fully autonomous vehicles. The latest entrant in this competition is the ride-sharing app Uber, which is seeking to move beyond mere taxi app, to become a tech and research power. To this end, Uber has announced that it is setting up an Advanced Technology Center in Pittsburgh.
Cars sporting the words “Advanced Technology Center” are already on the the streets of Pittsburgh, but are not yet driver-less, engaging instead in mapping trials and other research. That Uber is seeking to create driver-less cars makes sense from a business perspective, as salaries for drivers constitutes a major expense for the company. A driver-less service would see Uber be able to reduce costs by as much as 34 cents per mile.
Since its launch, Uber has faced numerous problems in various countries, primarily due to still nascent private taxi legislation and complaints from existing service providers. The service has even been banned in certain countries such as Thailand and Germany. Furthermore, the company’s offices in Guangzhou and Shenzhen were raided by Chinese officials, who claimed that the company was operating illegally.
Another controversial issue for Uber has been the series of criminal cases filled against its drivers, leading many to question the vetting process at the company. In this light, efforts towards driver-less vehicles could be seen as both a cost cutting and liability reducing measure; although the legal hurdles facing driver-less vehicles are just as numerous.
To date the most famous research efforts in driver-less cars have been undertaken by Google. Whereas Uber is seeking to create driver-less cars as a business model, Google has been more interested in basic research and the advancement of technology. Uber may be trying to challenge Google, in order to prevent future reliance on Google technology.