With Tesla’s self-driving cars having made the headlines these past few months (be it positive or negative press), the self-driving car topic has taken a different angle. Now that the Didi-Uber rivalry question has been answered, the sharing economy discussion has merged with that of the ‘connected’ car. As companies such as Uber and Lyft struggle to cut their margins in an attempt to compensate for heavy marketing and advertisement / promotion costs, the question of whether half of the equation in the sharing economy concept can be squeezed out is more relevant than ever – is it possible to successfully implement the driverless car model for ride-sharing and on-demand ride services?
Uber’s committed to it already, promising to buy at least 100 self-driving cars and put them on the street in Pittsburgh during a test-phase that will determine the efficiency of the driverless concept. It plans to use specially-equipped Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles and Ford Focus. Keeping in mind the fact that even though the technology is ready the user may not be, the cars will be equipped with two Uber employees each. Both employees are meant to provide observations while being able to steer in case of emergencies. Ottomotto’s chief executive and a co-founder of Google’s driverless car project, Anthony Lewandowski, will become the head of Uber’s automated-vehicle efforts.
“The technology is going to happen because the promise is so real,” Mr. Kalanick said in an interview. “It’s existential. We have to have all the best minds working on this.”
While Uber’s project could launch in as soon as two weeks, NuTonomy, a startup in Singapore focused on vehicles already launched autonomous cars in Singapore this past month. Lacking name recognition that Google & Uber have, and only three years into its existence, it faces a strong marketing challenge ahead; however, its launch is not just limited to testing – it’s completely available to the public. The MIT Spinout has been working closely with the Singapore Economic Development Board, having raised Series A money from the government backed fund.
“NuTonomy’s first-in-the-world public trial is a direct reflection of the level of maturity that we have achieved with our AV software system. The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting, and this feedback will give NuTonomy a unique advantage as we work toward deployment of a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018,” NuTonomy CEO and co-founder Karl Iagnemma said in a statement.
In response to the increasing focus on self-driving cars, traditional automotive OEMs have begun making deals at, seeking to remedy their shortcomings in auto tech and ride-hailing disciplines through consolidation and M&A that would have fasten the pace of autonomous car development. Since July 2016, Ford and Daimler have been especially active with direct corporate deals. Ford has invested in mapping (Civil Maps), LiDAR (Velodyne, with Baidu), and computer vision (Nirenberg Neuroscience), while also acquiring the Israeli startup SAIPS for self-driving machine learning.