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Self-Driving Cars' Most Likely Future: Shared 'Robotaxis'

In the wake of a high-profile (and fatal) accident involving an autonomous Uber car, the safety debate is trending. But the broader economic picture still points to a future of shared driverless rides.
March 25, 2018, 11am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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After an Uber self-driving prototype struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, the company has suspended test operations in other cities. But according to this piece from the Economist, self-drivers will likely hit the streets as fleets of "robotaxis" in the Uber vein, not as privately-owned vehicles. That is, if the technology can be made safe enough.

"Although today's experimental vehicles are modified versions of ordinary cars, with steering wheels that eerily turn by themselves, future AVs will have no steering wheel or pedals and will come in all sorts of shapes and sizes; pods capable of carrying six or eight people may prove to be the most efficient design."

The economic argument here is that robotaxis can earn for most of the day, while private vehicles sit idle most of the time. "The initial deployment of self-driving vehicles as robotaxis makes sense because they only need to work within a particular area—and because the sensors needed for a fully autonomous AV to sense its surroundings and figure out how to respond currently cost more than the vehicle itself."

The piece conjectures that in several decades, robotaxis will account for the majority of urban miles travelled. That'll open up plenty of land currently used for parking. "Eventually, perhaps by 2030 or so, the cost of sensors will fall and it will no longer be prohibitively expensive to buy your own self-driving vehicle. The question then is whether you would want to."

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Published on Monday, March 5, 2018 in The Economist
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