With Waymo’s Launch of Robo-Rides, When Can We Call a Tesla Taxi?

FCA US LLC announced today an agreement to supply thousands of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo to support the launch of the world’s first driverless ride-hailing service. (PRNewsfoto/FCA US LLC)

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Waymo, a unit of Alphabet Inc., launched this week the first driverless-car service in the U.S. The service, called Waymo One, works just like other popular ride-hailing providers – punch a button on your cellphone to summon a ride, which arrives in minutes. And while there’s a human in the driver’s seat, they’re not in charge of the vehicle.

Robots are in charge. And there could soon be thousands of robotaxis on the road.

Waymo says the trained drivers are present only “to supervise our vehicles for riders’ comfort and convenience.”

In April 2017, Waymo first invited members of the public to ride in their cars through the early rider program. The company says it chose a “diverse and passionate group” to give feedback to refine the product. More than 400 people currently have access to the service as part of an “early riders” program.

“Early riders used our self-driving vehicles to take courses at a local college, commute to work and to high school, accompany a vision-impaired aunt shopping, get to book club each week, connect to buses, and try new restaurants on date night,” Waymo said in a blog post. “And, their feedback along the way has helped us refine our technology and design features that meet their needs. Based on their comments we worked on ways to streamline pickups, made it easy to contact support for questions, and began operating our service at at all times of the day.”[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq89YGbERzs” video_title=”1″][vc_column_text]As can be expected with a corporate press release, particularly one promoting a radical change for society, Waymo says most of the feedback is positive from the people used for their experiment.

“We’ve already offered fully driverless rides to some of our early riders. Riders have shared their excitement about a self-driving future, and we expect this capability to gradually come to Waymo One,” the blog post said.

And, that self-driving future, as the blog post states in its opening graph, is all about safety.

“Almost 10 years ago, we were founded as the Google self-driving car project to explore one simple question: how can we best use fully self-driving technology to make roads safer? We’ve been focused on building the world’s most experienced driver ever since.”

A safe ride to the bank

But, let’s be honest. Waymo wants to make some dough from these robotaxis. Wall Street is already panting at the possibilities of such a massive disruption in transportation. Investment bank UBS, for instance, has estimated that Alphabet’s self-driving car unit could book $114 billion in revenue by 2030.

That revenue expectation isn’t just cab fares. UBS’ analyst Eric Sheridan said in a note that Waymo’s business opportunities fall into four main categories:

“We believe the four revenue pools they could look to monetize include: 1) maps; 2) AV operating system (OS); 3) robotaxi service; and 4) monetization of rider time spent in-car,” Sheridan said.

The full revenue potential for driverless technology is much greater. A 2017 report from Intel said the “Passenger Economy” represents a $7 trillion global opportunity in 2050.

“Our research finds that autonomous driving technology will enable a new Passenger Economy worth US$7 trillion in 2050,” the report said. “It will drive change across a range of industries, displacing vehicle ownership with Mobility-as-a-Service, and defining a new landscape of concierge and ride-hailing services, as well as pilotless vehicle options for businesses in industries like package delivery and long-haul transportation.”

Robotaxi teams

With such great potential, Waymo won’t be the only company to launch a commercial autonomous ride-hailing service. Other tech and auto companies like GM’s Cruise, Uber and Lyft are also preparing for a driverless future.

Uber is close to putting its self-driving cars back on the road after it had halted testing when one of its cars hit and killed a woman crossing a street in Phoenix. The accident in March was a worst-case-scenario for a technology that bills itself as potentially saving lives. Cautiously, Uber plans start testing its autonomous vehicles again this month on a mile-long loop near its offices in Pittsburgh. The company plans to keep the cars limited to 25 miles per hour, according to reports.

Lyft reportedly has its own self-driving cars on the road transporting employees to its office as part of an autonomous vehicle project that is currently in beta.

GM has said it will have a ride-sharing service featuring its line of self-driving Chevy Bolts ready to go by 2019.

And, of course, Elon Musk wants in on the robotaxi game too.

Tesla Network advantage

A Tesla-powered car-sharing network has been teased for a couple years, but Musk elaborated a bit on the vision during the company’s most recent earnings call.

“We absolutely see the future as kind of a shared electric autonomy, so that you’d be able to do ride-hailing or share the car anyway, you know sort of a long-term model that’s probably some combination of like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb,” Musk said. “There will be Tesla dedicated cars for ride-hailing and any customer will be able to share their car at will, just like you share your house on Airbnb. So, it’s a combination of those two models, I think is pretty obvious where things are headed long-term. The advantage that Tesla will have is that we’ll have millions of cars in the field with full autonomy capability and no one else will have that. So I think that will end up putting us in the strongest competitive position long-term.”

Musk said Tesla owners will be given the opportunity to profit before Tesla deploys its own cars into an area.

“The company-owned fleet will just be where there aren’t enough customer cars to be loaned out,” Musk said. “So if we find a particular metro where there aren’t enough customers who are loaning cars to the shared fleet then that’s where we will supplement with a Tesla owned fleet. So that’s why it sorts of a combination of Uber and Airbnb. And then we charge something probably comparable to yeah [Apple App store] or I don’t know we charge 30% or something in order for somebody to add the cars to fleet. I think that’s like a pretty sensible way to go.”

Tesla is currently racing to get its full-self-driving software dialed in. Tesla owners have now driven more than a billion miles with the driver-assist system engaged, which offers an important dataset for Tesla to leverage as it trains its self-driving system. Features such as Navigate on Autopilot are a notable step towards autonomous driving.

Musk said on the Recode Decode podcast that he believes Tesla could achieve full self-driving features by next year.

“(Navigate on Autopilot) is one of the first major steps toward full self-driving,” he said. “You can enter in an address, and from highway on-ramp to highway off-ramp, the car will change lanes. It will go from one highway to the next automatically and take off-ramp automatically. It’s pretty wild. It’ll overtake a slow car. It’s basically integrating navigation with the Autopilot capability.

“I think we’ll get to full self-driving next year. As a generalized solution, I think. Like we’re on track to do that next year. So I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else is on track to do it next year.”

If that’s the case, Alphabet’s Waymo One could soon have some serious competition. Tesla Network may not be the first to market, but since the company already has hundreds of thousands of vehicles on the road, it may have a big advantage.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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