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Waymo: Google's self-driving car company (waymo.com)
785 points by davidcgl on Dec 13, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 748 comments



I'm interested to see where all the major players end up in 5yrs:

• Tesla bootstrapping a ride service on the backs of buyers

• Waymo directly rolling their own fleet

• Uber trying to get a self-driving fleet up, burning mountains of money to maintain their "monopoly" on Uber for rides

• Lyft working with GM to get a fleet up

• All of the other car manufacturers trying to get autonomous vehicles going, presumably hoping for consumers to still want to own a vehicle rather than just pay $1 to get a ride

So: How much is Uber's market share worth? I suspect it'll evaporate overnight in every market where another service has autonomous vehicles and they don't.

Also: Private car ownership is going to fall off a cliff shortly after autonomous ride services arrive. Which probably means general demand for vehicles will fall off a cliff.

I predict blood on the walls.


> Also: Private car ownership is going to fall off a cliff shortly after autonomous ride services arrive. Which probably means general demand for vehicles will fall off a cliff.

I've seen this sentiment so many times now that I have to ask a serious question to anyone who echoes this sentiment:

Do you own a personal car right now? If so, why?

All of this... excitement over the transformations that self-driving vehicles will bring to the world of transit basically boils down to a model that's a mixture between taxi service and (really crappy) bus service, both of which exist today and have existed for several decades--and basically predate the automobile when you think about it. Yet somehow self-driving vehicles are supposed to completely change the mix of transit use when it's not really adding any capability changes. So I'm genuinely curious as to what the magic sauce is that makes people so giddy for this future.


I can't add anything profound, but I will say that 40+ years ago I camped at Disney's Ft. Wilderness campground, with all my many brothers and sisters. The electric trams had a routine schedule that came around and stopped almost in front of your campsite, all of kids would simply jump on, go to anywhere in the park like the stores, the showers, the outdoor theater, and hop off again. It was incredibly liberating and fun, our parents didn't have to be involved, we could go where and when we wanted. It was fun. I know, childishly silly, right? Just a way of getting people around a big place? Also called a Bus? No, not really as buses don't go where all the people live. Transportation was a critical part of Disney's attempt at showing how his futuristic communities would work. Now whether those specific trams were directly part of that, I dunno. But it did make your community activities, events, places, much larger and much more accessible, efficiently, and no worries on parking, maintenance. I have never forgotten that feeling of ease and efficiency of movement and freedom, and I saw that promise echoed in the Waymo video.


> No, not really as buses don't go where all the people live.

They do, though, you just haven't been to places where this is standard. Try finding a place that's more than 10 minutes walk from public transit: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Warsaw,+Poland/


No, I have been to many places in Europe and was amazed at the places they did go; schoolkids into the Alps for their skiing lessons, for example. I meant here in the US where bus service is mostly an urban experience, as well as underground/trains.



Look again!

They have fricking helipad that takes them to the bus stop!


This is what New York still feels like to me, 4 years after moving here. Don't own a car, hope I never have to.


It's one of my favorite things about living in NYC...


Yes. Having moved from a country that lacks good public transport to one that does some years ago I had exactly the same experience. People tend to judge from experience (and why would you not) and I'm guessing many Americans simply have not experienced the freedom that you get by being car-free.


Yes, but Disney never solved the problem of how expensive it is to run that service -- they just got people to pay. Will self-driving cars be cheap enough? They save money on the driver, but cost money in the automation hardware and security against vandalism/theft.


I think that's the key. Without the driver and gas costs, it should be as cheap as a public bus, but taking you from front door to front door.


Most of the cost of a taxi service is in wages to the human driver. With an autonomous car, you don't have the driver, so the service can be cheaper (especially with electric cars). I lived for about a year without a car, using Uber instead. But when I tallied my Uber usage, it ended up being about $600 per month. So I got a car instead and saved a lot of money. If this could be reduced to $200 - $300 per month, it would have been a different matter entirely.


I think you're basically agreeing with the parent. Like Zipcar and Uber, autonomous vehicle technology when it's eventually available will almost certainly be one more incremental step toward enabling reduced personal car ownership in edge cases.


> and have existed for several decades

Except that they are not really cheap, safe, or convenient. They are not door to door. Public bus/trains run at their own scheduled time, not at my desired time. Even services like Uber involve humans who are more concerned about their profit than my schedule or preferences, so they cancel rides when I need them the most because some other ride is more profitable for them. Moreover in countries like India where road accidents are the highest in the world, rash and unsafe driving is a big problem (government run bus, car drivers or private ones). This can just wipe that out! So personally, I'm super excited about this future.


I think that people who believe that private car ownership will fall are those who live in the urban centres and have little understanding of the needs and living styles of rural or suburban population. It could just as well be that the opposite will happen, because cars will suddenly become much more accessible for people who can't or don't know how to drive.


Or even those who live in urban centers but like to get out of them on weekends and vacations. I've tried living for years in western US cities both with and without a car. Going without was much cheaper, and I managed to find entertainment and not starve, but getting a car vastly improved my quality of life. Trains and an occasional rental would probably have worked nearly as well in parts of Europe, but the US just has too much empty space between interesting places.


Who says you can't take an automated rental car to more remote locations?


> It could just as well be that the opposite will happen, because cars will suddenly become much more accessible for people who can't or don't know how to drive.

This is important to note. I'm on those margins, and have been saving for my first automatic car for ages. I live in a mildly rural community, and don't wanna wait for uber or whatever to deploy autonomous cars here.


> those who live in the urban centres

Per the 2010 US census, over 80% of the US population lives in urban areas.


uh huh. and just what is the definition of urban area?


It's a definition in the census. I find it somewhat disappointing to see such a dismissive response when the answer is so easy to find.

Here's a link to the definitions of urban and rural: https://www.census.gov/geo/reference/gtc/gtc_urbanrural.html

Here's the 2010 figures for the split between the urban and rural: https://www.census.gov/geo/reference/ua/urban-rural-2010.htm...


I think the point was that the "urban area" definition in the census was quite broad. I live in an "urban area" on a decent plot of land with a Christmas tree farm on one side and a working farm/apple orchard on the other. Probably not what most people think of as urban.


My parent's house has an orange orchard in front of it, a wilderness area behind it, but Uber rides from downtown are still only $11, and everyone I know who lives in that town now uses Uber instead of driving. DUIs are way down. Nightlife is better, etc. etc. This is a very real 'urban' situation.


It is relatively broad, but the point is that it's based on population size and density. The fact that you live next to a farm and an orchard doesn't change the fact that you live near lots of other people.


I suppose it depends on your definition of near. I'm about an hour drive from a major city. Less so to smaller urban areas that have no significant public transit. No it's not the wilds of Wyoming but most people here probably wouldn't consider being on a 100 acres or so with a couple of other houses being near lots of other people.


Yes, but they don't necessarily need to own them. They could call a ride from a lot 10 minutes away whenever they need one.


From a personal perspective, if you could easily pre-schedule a self-driving car, and the reliability was very good (it's basically there when you need it), it would increase the convenience factor by a lot. From my perspective I'd be encouraged to reduce the cars in my household from 2 to 1 if this was available -- I would probably use this type of service for any sort of situation where I have a pretty good idea of when and where I'll use the car.

Taxi service exists, but the reliability factor is very poor right now (in that you call and you have to wait n minutes, where n sometimes is a very large number). I see Uber is rolling out a pre-scheduled service and I wonder how good this has been so far for the markets that have it. This would basically be the same thing only with human drivers.

I don't think this pattern works for rural areas and all situations. I also envision some nostalgia and/or tech discomfort keeping the car ownership pattern going for a while. Still, I am wondering if there are a lot of 2+ car families that would be in the same boat. Even drastically reducing the 2+ car families will drop vehicle demand.


I have two kids. They need car seats. We often haul stuff between home and the in-laws. This makes perma-Ubering infeasible.

We need a radically new car seat design, either:

1. Super portable and quick to install/remove, or

2. Built into the car, safe for all ages, easily extended/retracted.


With a huge fleet of self-driving cars, there would be enough capacity to have permanently configured cars for child seats, bike racks, dog areas, etc.

eg. "I need a 4wd vehicle for 2 adults and 2 bikes to take me to X park at 10am tomorrow."


Not without seriously increasing the costs for car rental.

The cost savings for car rental are predicated on increased utilization. Increased utilization is predicated on each car having more people using it on any given day. And these things don't scale infinitely -- each car can only serve a particular locality.

The number of variations that you propose is a fast geometric progression. Kids 0-12 months or so need different car seats from kids 12mo to about 3y need different car seats for older kids. The idea that you could support high utilization on "I want a car that has already installed a carseat for a 1-2year old + a carseat for a 5 year old plus a bike rack" is nuts.

(Regardless, also, parents carry a mountain of stuff that's THEIRS. The heck with a car seat, I need board books, toys, snacks, and wipes in the car.)


> The number of variations that you propose is a fast geometric progression.

Only if you're an engineer. To a marketing person, you bundle groups of features together and price them at various tiers.


Er, I wasn't talking about pricing complexity, I was talking about the ability to actually get the vehicle that meets your needs. It doesn't do you any good to know that "a vehicle with three or more constraints costs $1.50/mile" if you get a vehicle whose three constraints are "4WD, Bike rack, Dog area" when what you wanted was "carseat1, carseat2, large storage area."

And if the fleet can successfully meet arbitrary needs around constraints, then the fleet is going to be heavily overprovisioned, and thus expensive.


But the fleet is heavily overprovisioned now. We're just used to absorbing the costs of the overprovisioning. But the vast majority of Uber rides (or of passenger vehicle travel generally, really) don't require five seats, don't require trunk space, etc. We just equip cars standard with these configurations for the small fraction of trips that actually require them. In some sense self-driving cars should actually reduce overprovisioning by letting single-occupant trips use smaller vehicles (and hey, in a pinch, cars with bike racks on them work just as well carrying people without bikes, just like five-person cars can carry a single person alright).


Car rental companies already manage this quite handily. Roughly speaking: economy, midsize, full size, SUV, 4WD SUV.

"4WD, Bike rack, Dog area" -> 4WD SUV.

You'll probably have to snap on your own accessories (kayak/ski/bike rack) when the vehicle arrives. Or if you order in advance, you can pay extra to have a specific accessory configuration prepared and set up for you (vehicle drives itself to local servicing point to get configured).


Once you are at your activity point it goes to grab your hot meal and meets you at the other side of your hike.

I would like that.


Perhaps a fleet of self-driving cars could reconfigure on-demand.

e.g. Customer orders a self-driving car with 1 infant car seat. A robot bolts-in a modular infant car seat at the depot and sends it off.


I've wondered whether some of this would lead to a personal "pod" like thing. I am happy buying a box with comfy seats and a TV and kids seats, etc.

But I don't need or want to buy a wheel, batteries, cameras, lasers, etc. Those also should be upgraded as technology gets better but my box doesn't really need to be anything but a box.

So what if I could sit in my box and have a transporter thing come over and clip onto me and take me away? You could have child seats and I could have a lazyboy chair, or I might need 8 seats and you need storage space.

This would then let the actual transporters take other types of cargo too, rather than having a people vs items split. It would allow a pony-express style swapover rather than needing huge range in a single one. It would even allow completely different types of transport, what if my pod could just be clipped onto a big train and whip me to the other side of europe?

This would all likely have other downsides, but is a fun thing to think about.

TL;DR shipping containers


How about making your existing car self driving? Your stuff is always there in the trunk, but when you're not using it, it joins the fleet and earns you some money.

I really want to see a day, where I drive my car to work. It then drives other people around and picks me when I am finished.


Retrofitting self driving system -- Nice idea!!!


The initial idea of Cruise


Convertible car seats can handle kids from 5 pounds to 65 pounds (like the Britax Marathon). That handles from newborn to 5+ years old.

You don't need drastically different car seat.


1. is never happening. If you want a proper safe car seat for a 1-3 year old, it's going to weigh 30-40 lbs no matter what sintered pixie dust you build it from. And it has to be pretty huge since a small person has to fit almost inside it.

Even the ones for babies, that people for some reason I can't fathom like to carry around in the supermarket, are actually also 20+ lbs, you've just left 15 lbs remaining in the car occupying a seat while you're shopping. And they're also bulky.

2. could happen for children aged 4+ in a minivan-sized car. I've already seen it on some long distance buses. For younger kids however, they really need to sit facing rearward, but also must be well protect against side impacts, so it's very tricky to make something retractable that doesn't take a huge amount of space.


> Even the ones for babies, that people for some reason I can't fathom like to carry around in the supermarket, [...]

These are awesome because you can take your sleeping baby out of the car, carry them with you without waking them up, and put them back in the car without waking them up. Shopping is 10x faster this way than when you have to spend most of your time comforting/distracting an awake and fussy baby.


Maybe I'm spoiled with sleepy kids, but we would just go get one of the shopping carts with a baby seat on, lift baby from car seat to shopping cart seat (95% success rate for not waking baby), go shopping while actually having space for stuff in the cart.


> I've already seen it on some long distance buses

Can we apply some if this science for making car seats for taller people. I am so unhappy when seat ends midway of my thigh or shoulders ram into headrest (mostly airplane problem).


You are over estimating car seat weights. A large, one piece, high end seat for kids up to 70 pounds like a Britax Marathon only weighs 19.5 pounds. No pixie dust needed, just plastic and styrofoam.

https://us.britax.com/car-seats/marathon-70/ (see specifications)

Those detachable seats you see mom's carrying in the supermarket weigh about 10 pounds, and the base will be about the same.


The one you link to is a) not ISOFIX, thus not high end, and b) discontinued from the manufacturer.

We have this one, which is what I'd consider the gold standard. It's ISOFIX, and only rearward-facing since kids under 4 should not be facing front, and it's won basically every test there is:

http://www.besafe.com/product-int/izi-kid-x2-i-size/

It weighs 40.6 lbs. Quite a bit of structural steel in there, including a full integral roll bar and a brace against being rear-ended, both of which your linked Britax seat lacks.

Also bloody expensive, but if there's one thing I won't skimp on, it's the safety of my children.


ISOFIX doesn't define high end it is just the name of the European standard. The US decided to go with a different standard called LATCH. Britax is high end, and the Marathon is their largest safest seat, and it weighs 19.5 pounds.

https://us.britax.com/car-seats/marathon/https://us.britax.c...

So maybe in Europe you are going to have a harder time with self driving cars because you need heavier car seats, but you'll probably find a workable compromise. Yu can just build your base into the center seat or something.


I don't have kids, but friends who do have strollers where the seat is a removable car seat.

Would Ubering with something like this work?


Like I said, assuming your friends have a proper high-safety Isofix seat, those removable car seats are only 1/3 of the whole seat, 2/3 are left permanently in the car.


Don't see why not. Just make sure they have accessible ISOFIX (UAS) connectors and it'd be very straightforward.


I think this claim is making the assumption that self driving cars will be much more accessible and available than taxis/Ubers today. Where I live (in the suburbs) I can't rely on an Uber being available at any time I would want to go somewhere, and taxis only exist at the airport. If I could count on a car showing up at any time, anywhere I might go after a short but predictable wait time, I would definitely ditch my car. But the current options available to me don't allow for that. I don't want to own a car - I feel like I have to.

Also, cost is another big factor. I would also assume that taking a self driving car would be a smaller expense than owning for the average user.


Ridesharing currently requires human drivers which limits them to where the drivers want to be and limits them to how many drivers are in your area.

When human drivers are not required you have neither of these problems. It will be significantly easier for ridesharing companies to provide availability in non-dense areas.

Hell, they'll be able to control where these vehicles go by algorithm, so it will simply be a matter of adding more vehicles to their fleet and the algorithm will take care of minimizing response time for everyone.


Why would ride sharing companies behave diffrently than human drivers. I don't think laws of economics will change.


It takes time to sign up human drivers and onboard them. Buying new cars can be done in bulk at scale.

Also, you can easily send a car from one city to another. A human driver needs to get home to their family. You can't just say "drive to Miami and work there for three weeks".

Also, simply decreasing the cost per mile by cutting labor costs makes further flung areas more accessible. You can't sell a $10 ride if it costs $10 just to pay someone to drive to the area and back. But if it costs $4 to send a car, that ride becomes financially viable.


Cause they are competing with anyone with a car. That makes margins a fair bit lower.


Self-driving taxis are in principle way cheaper to operate than human-driven taxis. They never have to stop, they can operate at all hours, there's no cost to pay drivers, and if they do stop they can do it somewhere very cheap.

And when self-driving cars are a viable option, insurance will strongly encourage it. And by strongly encourage it I probably mean "absurdly high fees for driving your own car", because people are much worse drivers. Which should drive up the price of car ownership significantly. The increased cost to car storage in populated areas will probably lag a long while behind, so the second cliff will be much slower to hit.


This is a frequent argument I keep seeing about the cost of insurance rising as autonomous vehicles are introduced. There's no reason they'll rise past what they're currently charging; insurance takes into account current risk. In the future, the risk if anything should decrease.


The risk may decrease but liability may increase, as this is a risk you are taking deliberately if you decide to drive your car instead of getting a safe self driving car like everybody else.


Insurance doesn't work that way. Liability isn't an ephemeral concept, it's the chance of a claim X the amount of a claim, pooled in a group of buyers with differing risks. The relative cost of insurance compared to an autonomous vehicle should increase, but not the dollar amount.


Car accidents kill people. The amount of those claims is not fixed and will increase when every fatality can lead to a wrongful death civil case.


I can buy cars with better safety systems being cheaper to insure, whether you're talking assistive driving systems or something more. But why would the existence of cars with better systems make driving vehicles like most people own today more expensive than currently?


> But why would the existence of cars with better systems make driving vehicles like most people own today more expensive than currently?

Safer options will, as they become available, be disproportionately chosen by the safety conscious. This can, potentially, make the less-safe legacy option more dangerous (per use) than before the safer option became available, because the safest users of the less-safe option before the new one are users of the new option afterward, and no longer bringing the average risk of the old option down.


Conversely, if a significant proportion of the cars on the road are autonomous and safer than human-driven cars, then the accident rate for everyone could decline, making insurance cheaper for both autonomous and human-driven cars.


Wouldn't that make insurance cheaper for autonomous cars and more expensive for human-driven cars since humans would be more of a liability behind the wheel?


The comparison isn't between cars with assistive/autonomous systems and those without. It's between cars without those systems some decades hence and those without such systems today. Why should the existence of such systems make driving by humans more expensive than it is today?


Not necessarily. You could equally argue that self-driving cars will be more popular among bad drivers.


letting humans drive cars is insane. i'm not paying into your insurance pool.


I own a car in India, because there are no other means to get to where I want to, when I want to. I now live in Singapore and I absolutely don't feel the need for a car. That said, I am not incredibly happy with the public transportation here. It's still slow - takes about 35-40 mins to cover 10 km door to door. It's not possible to haul kids and luggage in public transit. Self driving cars address these shortcomings. They are door-to-door. I rent a seat when I am travelling alone, or rent the entire car when I"m traveling with family. I'm dead certain that traditional car companies are screwed. Just look at the driving license stats in the US. The number of millenials getting a driving license is dramatically decreasing.


> Yet somehow self-driving vehicles are supposed to completely change the mix of transit use when it's not really adding any capability changes.

Self-driving vehicles could be at your door within a 1 minute timeframe (say). That's a huge change, and will nullify the benefits of owning a car.

Of course, this will be possible because driverless taxi companies will have the logistics in place to make this happen (they know where every car is, and they can compute where to send empty cars to increase the capacity).

I can imagine that a cheaper service will offer the same but, say, in 5 minutes.

Also, you will never have to find a parking spot, which may be an even better argument.


> will nullify the benefits of owning a car

Except I like owning my car. I can take it where I want. When I need it, I have it. I can leave my stuff in it if I want to (e.g. if I decide to go to the park for the day I can leave my coat in the car if it is warm). If it's pouring rain I don't have to wait, I can just get in it and go.


I can't wait to have a self driving car it would be even more convenient than a regular car. I gues some people just don't see the utility in cars other than getting from point A to point B. I also love to own a car for same reasons as you do and also for a bunch other personal preferences which are not possible when i have to take a ride in somebody else's car. Just as i prefer sleeping in my own bed, watching my TV in my own living room on my own couch, using my own toilet rather than using a public toilet, i prefer driving/being driven in my own car where i have my things available.


If you are using your car like a giant purse, then I'm afraid all is lost :)


Taxis suck and busses suck. Self driving cars have the potential to give you the benefits of the taxis and busses without as many downsides. Not sure what more you'd need to understand why folks are excited about this.

Not having to own, insure, maintain, or park a car. End to end transportation with no transfers that allows you to internet while you travel. Cheaper than human driven cabs (presumably).


Different usecases drive different needs. If you live in the suburbs, it's easier to own a car than to get an Uber and wait for 20 minutes every time you are going out. If you live in the city, it's cheaper to set aside money for Uber than to pay for a car and a parking spot.

Also, getting a driver has never been this easy. Taxis have existed for hundreds of years, but smartphones are a recent invention. There's a huge difference between calling a phone number and trying to setup a rendezvous than the current workflow on Uber or Lyft, that literally takes 10 seconds from the moment I unlock my phone.


Before Uber, the taxi company I used had an automated system which send a taxi to my place if I pressed 1, and connected me to human that took a new address when I pressed 2. Even with a human in the loop, it rarely took more than 40 seconds. I agree that Uber app is more convenient than that, but it really wasn't an order of magnitude improvement -- what was a deal maker for me was the fact that Uber automatically charged me, and I didn't have to put a card in and input PIN, or scramble for cash.


I own one now because there is no decent public transport in Dallas. I would sell it in a heartbeat if we have better public transport or if Ride Sharing services (with human drivers or autonomous) get cheaper.


> So I'm genuinely curious as to what the magic sauce is that makes people so giddy for this future.

I think the magic sauce is utilization. A fully autonomous car's utilization rate can be close to 100%.

Higher utilization --> same demand for mobility hours/miles can be satisfied with fewer vehicles --> ceteris paribus, fewer vehicles sold every year.

Viewed through this lens, it seems inevitable that, in equilibrium (ie once the non-autonomous to autonomous fleet transition is complete) annual per-capita demand for vehicles will be lower with the advent of fully autonomous cars.


> A fully autonomous car's utilization rate can be close to 100

So if every car is almost always at 100% how am I going to be able to instantly get a car on demand from my suburban mcmansion?


I have to agree with you skepticism. Let's e.g. replace "car" with "apartment". Imagine an apartment where you pay a premium to have all the cooking, cleaning and maintenance done for you. This obviously exists today, yet >99% of people don't use it.

I believe people like owning things, and using them to do stuff. This is a basic fact of being human. Probably goes right back to the stone age. I doubt autonomous cars will change that pattern.


> I believe people like owning things... This is a basic fact of being human

There are some objects we enjoy forming a relationship with. Your favorite kitchen knife. Your bed. Your sports car you take out on the weekend.

There are other objects we just want to work. Your running shoes. Your daily commuting vehicle. Your dish rack.

Of course it varies from person to person which items fall in which category.

There will always be a market for people who want to own and fetishize a car. The same way there is a market for people who want to own and fetishize their record collection.

But it is usually a smaller market than the market for people who just want convenient access to the thing. I.e. Spotify.

Which will be bigger, Spotify for mobility, or your neighborhood hipster automobile dealer?


An apartment where cooking, cleaning and maintenance are done for you costs significantly more than the alternative. If it didn't, >99% would do so.

The idea is that a subscription car service is likely to be significantly cheaper than owning your own.


The connection to ownership works for things you operate. If I do my own laundry I want a nice washing machine, and I'll shop for one, upgrade on features, etc. Same for kitchen knives.

I have a maid who does my laundry so I don't care about my washing machine anymore. I still cook so I want good knives, but if my maid were to start cooking I'd stop caring.

I don't own a car, but sometimes I rent one. And when I do I almost always pay 2-3x for a sports car because it's fun.

When I use Uber, I never pay for the upgrade to a nicer car. I'm just going to read or fiddle with my phone, so I don't care about the car at all.

I predict the exact same behavior for autonomous cars. And why would I pay $25k for a car when I can get the same thing for $1 a ride (and not have to worry about parking or maintenance or upgrades to new models).


Hotel apartments attract a lot of wealthy dwellers. It's less expensive than having to pay your own full-time house staff.


Exactly, unless self driving cars become cheaper than taxis then what is the point?


They don't need to be cheaper, they need to deliver better service.

Depending on the city, better might be faster, more available, less racist, less intense experience, cleaner, etc, etc, etc.

They don't need to be cheaper in most places, at least not yet.


I thought that was the whole idea?


> Do you own a personal car right now? If so, why?

Yes.

There isn't a reliable taxi service or public transportation in most suburbs. Even if you have Uber in your town, it's much more expensive than owning/leasing a personal car.

I can't use Uber when I need to go to another town 50 miles away or 500 miles away.

Autonomous ride service could change that.


Honestly, I would love to have my own self-driving car that integrates with home robotics.

Imagine you leave your laptop at home... Just get your car to drive home, receive it robotically, and bring it to your location before your next meeting!

It would work just like Uber (even better), only you would own it. Every delivery company would be out of a ride the moment your car can go make restaurant pickups.


Well, if you have home robotics, what stops you from hiring a self driving service to fetch the laptop for you.


> Private car ownership is going to fall off a cliff shortly after autonomous ride services arrive

But how is this going to work? In cities, everyone uses their car at exactly the same time: roughly, between 8-9 in the morning and 5-7 in the evening. If you don't own a car, chances are you won't get one when you need it to get to work on time.

Or, if there are enough cars for peak hours, then demand for new cars will not fall that much (although the structure of ownership may in fact change).

Other things that could change is the need for infrastructure (at least in Europe); you don't need highways and high speed trains that much if speed of travel matters much less. If your car drives itself during the night and you can sleep comfortably in it (or read, or watch movies, whatever), then the length of the trip is not paramount.


> Or, if there are enough cars for peak hours, then demand for new cars will not fall that much (although the structure of ownership may in fact change).

Initially, no, but long-term you can move much parking to cheaper places around the periphery of the urban area rather than needing a parking spot where people live, one where they work, and fractions everywhere else they might go. So sustainable density of everything that isn't parking spaces in the city core goes up, walkability and transit access improve, so the cars/people ratio drops.


In the shorter term, there are still huge efficiencies to be gained with smarter ride sharing. Imagine if something like uberpool served a majority of car commuters instead of a tiny fraction... you could get a lot of cars off the road but still provide a very high level of service.


Or, wait, what if we made the car really long and put in even more passengers per driver? It might even have a pre-determined schedule and be pretty cheap?


Trains won't stop in front of your house.


No, but busses can be pretty close, and shared vans actually will. I suspect those are closer than trains to what the grandparent post was referencing.


So all the cars also drive back out of the city around 9am and back in again around 3pm? That sounds like more cars on the road (over the course of a day) rather than less.


It's more cars on the road per car trip, but fewer car trips per person per day for the reasons already explained upthread.


Upthread I see arguments for why there won't be many fewer cars, because everyone still needs to get to/from work and they do that at roughly the same time. Ride-sharing is what helps. Parking outside of the city has nothing to with demand for cars.


Okay so now I'm waiting 10 minutes for the car to get to me from parking.


Peak pricing can spread out demand a bit, and also, people can use much smaller vehicles most of the time. We buy cars for worst case size or conditions. Look around the parking lot of a white collar work place that is filled up with four wheel drive all terrain vehicles and pickup trucks.

Ride sharing for rush hour would use a ton of compact vehicles. Even if the number of vehicles is the same to account for peak usage, the majority of the vehicles will be much smaller and much less capable, and therefore much less profitable for manufacturers.


How does "spread out demand" work out with "people need to work 9-5"?

As for "much smaller cars most of the time": not if you want to maintain the current safety level while also being able to travel faster than 20 mph.


The idea that everyone needs to arrive at and leave the office at the very same minute has always been idiotic. It's a holdover from assembly-line thinking. Presumably in a predominantly ride-sharing, autonomous-car world this would be reflected through pricing rather than through ridiculous commuter traffic jams.


Often you need a car to get to the subway which does not take that long. Slug lanes also become more useful with self driving cars.

Combine the two and you get a self driving car to central location > car or public transit to city center > self driving car in the city. Remember parking is often 10+$ a day due to land value, so two ~4$ trips can be a net savings.

Finally, even a 20-30% drop in demand would be huge in such a capital intense industry.


Remember parking is often 10+$ a day.

And can be more of a hassle or less conveniently located than a transit stop.


Plus the damages. In 20 years I have suffered many thousands worth of damages and every time it's when I'm not in the car.


A good portion of traffic in downtown areas is people driving around trying to find parking.


When I lived in downtown San Diego, I felt sorry for the car people. Some streets are one way only and some parking is two hours only, etc. If you aren't extremely familiar, it can be a nightmare to try to figure out where to park and then find your way back to the building you are going to.

And then one day I realized some of the buildings were multi story parking structures and it kind of made me mad. So much of the city infrastructure is whored out to the needs of arrogant, obtuse car people, very much at the expense of everyone. It brings quality of life down and cost of living up for absolutely everyone because of people wanting the right to drive their own damn car everywhere, no exceptions.

And I stopped looking on them with pity or sympathy and started looking on them as parasites who totally deserved whatever small misery they were inflicting on themselves with driving around, looking for parking. But I did not deserve the misery they were inflicting on me with things like worse air pollution.


> Slug lanes also become more useful with self driving cars.

And faster. A lot of the traffic on highways is caused by rubbernecking, which self-driving cars are mostly immune to.


If one driver in 20 is a rubbernecker, all the cars slow down.


I could see apartment complexes and neighborhood associations partnering with these autonomous vehicle services to provide transportation for their residents, then eventually municipalities demanding it of new developments, with a reduction of parking space requirements in combination (similar to what Austin, TX does with ZipCar and businesses: if you have 2 Zip car spaces, you can reduce your parking requirement by 4).


It's much easier to coordinate ride sharing when there's an interested third party in place. ad-hoc ride-sharing for a reduces cost could result in the average car traveling at much closer to full capacity much of the time. If you set it up ahead of time, it could even optimize a route that picks up and drops off along an optimal route.

Don't think of it as replacing what historically was walking outside and hailing a cab, think of it as setting up a carpool with office mates except you don't have to know them, and you don't have to work out all the details, it will be handled for you.


I think you overestimate how willing someone is to sit in a small car with 3 other strangers during their morning and evening commutes. I don't see a huge impact on ownership at least in the first decade or two of autonomous cars. Lots of people still have relatively specific needs, e.g. requiring car seats of various sizes for their young children, needing to pick-up or drop-off kids at school, sports practice, etc.

Mass transit works well in dense areas because the vehicles are large and only need to go short distances or go long distance over a specific route. When everyone has their own custom route, person A's route may make person B's route unacceptably longer. Also, sitting on a bus/train with 50 strangers is less of an odd social situation than sitting in a car with one stranger.

Once autonomous cars get to the point where they don't require any driver attention at all, I think it will make ownership even more appealing since you could customize the entire to match whatever you want to do while you're hauled around.


This is an N of one but, I use either Uber or Lyft to and from work every day. People get used to it. I find it far more pleasant than a crowded and dirty bus or train. Even when the car is small and full, the car usually smells better, is cleaner and oddly feels like there are more defined boundaries than a bus or train seat when crowded.

Everyone has their own door as well so there isn't as much jostling past and touching and being touched by strangers even in a full car.

The only time I've ever taken an Uber or Lyft and I not have my own door and/or I've had to scoot past people is in large party situation and those other people were my friends.

I've talked to women and they seem to prefer an Uber or Lyft over taking the train and/or the bus. Also, being dropped off at your destination rather than walking a few blocks from a metro stop to where you are going also makes a massive difference.

The benefits really outweigh the drawbacks. Especially if this is cheaper than owning one's own car. In theory, a private automated car service (calling a car and being the only rider) would still be cheaper than owning a private car and still have the same conveniences. It's just that eventually it will basically just be 4x cheaper to share a ride.


If everyone took a Lyft or Uber or Grab to work, then the congestion would be unbearable. San Francisco's BART takes about 400,000 would-be passengers off the road daily.

Mass transit remains the most viable method of transporting people over dense, multi-mile terrain.

The last mile and "normal" metros like Memphis, Baltimore, or Cleveland, where it is not dense enough to justify a comprehensive subway/light rail system, are probably the best use cases for self-driving cars and universal car sharing systems.


Look at it this way,

There is at least one lane on either side of the road at full capacity. Always bumper to bumper. But, the cars do not move save 2% of the time when their operators remove them from the traffic jam, I mean parking spot. There are 275,450 streetside parking spots in San Francisco city limits. Assuming a pooling of some drivers, and an increased utility of roads due to size & traffic flow then we can look forward to a net decrease of cars on roads and a net increase of available land for expanded sidewalks and bike paths.


I actually wonder about this. Is it a matter of most cars being mostly empty, or is it inherently impossible to match the mass transit capacity. If we look at it as passengers carried over space required and time spent, here's how I see it:

Rail mass transit does not as efficiently use the land it's on a occupancy basis (there's not always a train on a specific square foot of track). In peak times, cars are more efficient on a vehicle basis. According to BART system facts[1], there are 107 miles of track. There are 669 cars, seating for 72 in 448 of them with each being 70 feet (with 59 of them having an additional 5 feet for a cab), and seating for 64 in 230 cars[2] (with an indeterminate car length, so I'll use the smaller listed), for a total capacity of 46,976 seated people. BART states that all cars can hold over 200 people in a "crush" load, so we'll assume 200 as the theoretical maximum, and say BART can carry 133,000 people when at peak (crush) capacity, and over the 107 miles of track, that gives us a density of 1,250 people per linear track mile, but with only 8.3% track utilization at any one time.

Cars do not as efficiently pack people per vehicle usually, but can more efficiently use the roads on a per-vehicle basis. Assuming very heavy traffic which is not stop-and-go, so perhaps 35 miles an hour average (the same as BART), and a 4-lane highway (two each direction), if each car is allowing two car lengths between itself and the car in front (slow traffic), we have approximately 33% road utilization (or 25%, or 20% depending on what you think the average space between vehicles is). Since carpooling seems to be at about 10% currently carpooling[4] (ignoring that it may be different in certain arterial routes, as we are discussing), we have around 1.066 people per car[5] as a lower bound. With an average car length of 177.2 inches[6], or 14.77 feet, we can estimate the people per mile on the highway during this time as being 604 people per mile of 4-lane highway.

Interesting take-aways for me:

While 4-lane highways may take more room than rail (not sure the actual sizes here), they are also more versatile.

If the highway bogs down below 35 mph, it's then less than the average rate of BART, and we need to start computing people over time instead of just people over distance.

BART has much more room to increase track utilization, but there is likely unaccounted for overhead here on each train. Optimal usage at current speed is one train arriving immediately after the prior one leaving, at 35 mph exact speed and 20 second stops, for a train of six cars (?) and 425 feet, that would be cars 2.42 train lengths apart, and a utilization of 29%, or roughly a 4x increase over current rates, 5,000 people per track-mile.

Cars have much more room to increase vehicle utilization. If we replaced 50% of vehicles with full size vans transporting on average 7 people each and didn't touch road utilization, we would be at an overall average of 4 people per car, and 2600 people per highway mile. Interestingly, if we somehow moved towards a system where smaller vehicles picked up and shuttled people with small amounts of sharing to bus-stations where they were sorted into smaller buses (40 people) going specific area depots, and from those depots dispersed again to final destinations using individual cars with small amounts of sharing, we might easily surpass rail transit systems. averaging 20.5 people per vehicle, but with somewhat more area used should put us close to 10,000 people per highway mile.

Of course, there's a lot of assumptions in all the numbers, and some speculation in the possibilities, but I thought it was interesting to figure out. ;)

1: http://www.bart.gov/about/history/facts

2: I know the total car numbers don't add up. Complain to BART, it's their data.

3: (66970 feet + 695 feet)/(7 * miles * 5280 feet/mile) = (47125 feet)/(564960 feet) = 8.3%

4: https://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/acs-15.pdf, table 1.

5: 105,476 drove alone, 13,917 carpooled, if we assume all carpooling was just two people per car, we get person to car density by (105,476+13,917/2)/105,476 = 1.066 people per car

6: https://www.reference.com/vehicles/average-length-car-2e8538...

7: 5280 feet/mile / 14.77 feet/car * 0.33 highway mile utilization = 117 cars at highway lane mile utilization. 117 cars * 1.066 people/car = 126 people per mile of highway lane. 4 lanes fives us 604 people per highway.


Of course, you could have a separate pull-out track for train stations, and interleave the trains. Then you would be able to double your utilization :).

I can't really think of any reason why one technology is inherently higher-capacity than the other, it's mostly that private cars are very inefficient, not rubber tyres.


Sure. I just wanted to run the numbers to see how it actually broke down currently, and what we could theoretically aim for. Light rail systems are useful in that they are efficient, and can readily move large amounts of people currently. Unfortunately their delivery characteristics are very rigid, and they have a very large up-front cost.

An autonomous car system that supports easy ride sharing, and semi-public transportation through something like uber for busses can fulfill much of the same need, but without quite the expected density, but with the ability to deliver to just about any location.

Both would benefit from a last-mile service . Sort of like arteries and capillaries in the circulatory system.

Actually, you know what would be really cool with this? Autonomous bikes[1]. Not that you need them to drive you, but that you can rent a bike and have it show up for you, or rent it at the bus depot/train station, and have it return after you've reached your destination.

1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSZPNwZex9s


You're comparing a 4 lane highway to a 2 track rail?

Crossrail in London will have a train every 2.5 minutes with a capacity of 1500 people per train.

Trains also do not slow down to a crawl at high capacity.


> I think you overestimate how willing someone is to sit in a small car with 3 other strangers during their morning and evening commutes.

People do it already to save money. Making it easier, and adding the ability to set up a standing appointment with the same people over multiple days would alleviate a lot of people's concerns, IMO.

> Lots of people still have relatively specific needs, e.g. requiring car seats of various sizes for their young children, needing to pick-up or drop-off kids at school, sports practice, etc.

Many families have two cars, purely because of the few times a day when both are needed at the same time. For example, I have a Honda Odyssey for family use, since I have three kids. I also have a cheap commuter that I lease, purely to get to and from work a few times a week, since I work from home a couple days. That's a car I could happily and easily remove from service with little impact, as long as I had a way to get to and from work.

> When everyone has their own custom route, person A's route may make person B's route unacceptably longer.

The idea is, with thousands of routes, you might find quite a few that overlap a significant percentage of the time. Compute what percentage each person is responsible for of the whole, subtract some portion of the route for the distance that's spent going to the other pickups/dropoffs that aren't on your path, and provide a a discount depending on how much you share. Use minivans and/or full-size vans if there are enough rides to maximize people, comfort and space. The carrier maximizes profit over people and vehicle wear over a ride, and the people minimize price.

> Once autonomous cars get to the point where they don't require any driver attention at all, I think it will make ownership even more appealing since you could customize the entire to match whatever you want to do while you're hauled around.

Sure, but that's a luxury use. People that drive luxury cars that cost a lot will undoubtedly do that. People that are trying to minimize cost so they can spend that money on essentials or even just other luxuries they value more will opt for the cheaper option. It's why people carpool now.


> I think you overestimate how willing someone is to sit in a small car with 3 other strangers

Why not just keep your partition up between you and the other passengers? Because no human driver needs visibility out all of the windows, you can split the car into private spaces. When no driver is needed, it opens up a lot of different configurations.


> I think you overestimate how willing someone is to sit in a small car with 3 other strangers during their morning and evening commutes.

The self-driving vehicle needn't be a small car.


Every morning I sit with many strangers in a train car for about an hour commuting to work. Sure a car is not quite the same, but I don't think it's that much different either. Society will adapt.


It's way different to be on a train car with a bunch of strangers than it is to be in close quarters with one or two strangers. There's a reason that a cliche way to meet someone like an online date is in a public location and not, say, a car.


I'm also looking at it from my point of a view, as someone in their mid-30's. I'd assume the generations before mine will be much more likely to accept this than my generation.


Fully autonomous fleets of cars will push societal changes we can't yet predict. Right now everyone shows up to work at about the same time. Is that a fixed position society will always uphold? I don't know, there's a lot of things I don't know. The only thing I can predict is that in the same way the personal automobile upended the social structures of the day, autonomous vehicles will likely do something similar.


There's plenty of reasons to think that. For instance, it's well studied that people value leisure time at the same time as everyone else does. Having your time off disconnected from that of your social circle causes a lot of isolation. Since social circles interconnect with each other, we end up with a single major leisure window, and a set of people in relatively low paying jobs that are stuck working at different times. Those jobs often have out of band vacation days precisely so that they can still participate in regular social life some of the time.

We can make many technological changes in the world. Some will be huge. However changes that rely on humanity not being social are just very unlikely.


Always? No. Will autonomous cars change it? Doubtful. In fact, it could make it worse, because who cares if your commute is 3 hours instead of 2 as long as you can watch American Idol while you're doing it.


I'd love to see what the average household pays for vehicles. If you don't think that money is high on the motivational list for people, you need only look at what happened the last time gas prices were $1/gallon higher than today. In any case, I doubt car ownership will "fall off a cliff". It will be a gradual change. Many people won't trust the software, there will be a few incidents that get tons of media coverage to scare people off (no doubt funded by entrenched interests). Some people won't trust that the amount of time it takes to get a ride will be low enough, especially in more rural areas. Many people like the culture of car ownership. But at the end of the day, if it saves hundreds of dollars per month and is roughly as safe and convenient as owning a car, the value proposition will be too strong to ignore. But that's a change that will take (IMO) 15-25 years to see widespread adoption.


The thing is that even in rural areas the logistics of autonomous cars allow you to get away with just one for an entire family. The fact that the car can come back home and pick someone else up later means that even if there are still people who own cars (and I suspect lots of people still will) sharing amongst small groups will likely decrease overall count of owned vehicles.


Well I certainly care if my commute gets longer regardless of how I'm commuting because there's a lot of things I can't do with my time while I'm commuting.


People with families or physical social obligations care.


While people still drive themselves, there's a huge incentive to come to work early or late, to avoid traffic. I don't see that incentive increasing with autonomous cars. If anything, I predict that more people will join rush hour traffic if they don't need to do any actual driving. However, this might be mitigated by the better driving of autonomous cars.


We can predict some of the changes. I'm looking forward to the day where those with poor sight and poor reflexes (eg many old people) can get around cheaply and easily, without much risk to themselves or others. Drunk driving injuries and deaths should plummet as well. Self driving cars will be enormous for blind people that don't live somewhere with robust taxi facilities.


I think you overestimate the percentage of people that a. work b. work 9 to 5 jobs. there's plenty of cars on the road at other times. would be surprised if load was more than 2-3x as high at those peak times (which could easily be accommodated by ride sharing)


if people have so much flexibility, why does rush hour exist?


you made a typo: it's "rush hourS"

Depending on the location there are 3-4 rush hours in the morning and 3-4 in the afternoon.


If your average car occupancy count goes from one-point-something to two, it would be a huge change in number of cars required and traffic congestion.


It could. It could also go from one-point-something to zero-point-something. Until now, the floor for car occupancy was 1. It's now zero. There is the possibility of empty trips (repositioning for next shuttle run, driving to distant parking lot, etc) adding rather than subtracting traffic.


I agree that a certain amount of repositioning trips is likely, but I also expect that they will be calculated for when they are fastest and cheapest. Even in an all-electric-car-all-the-time scenario, fuel isn't free and sitting with the engine off is easier on the car than idling on a highway.


If the cars no longer need a driver, then self-driving cars combined with route planning may open the door toshuttle-based door to door ride-shared commutes...

Potentially cheap enough to be a good compromise between current uncomfortable public transport, and owning your own vehicle (but unable to put the commute time to good use).

With that being said... I am also pretty doubtful. People like to own cars.


Look at tuk-tuks and minibuses in developing countries -- the US has a lot of catching up to do since public transit was destroyed.


> In cities, everyone uses their car at exactly the same time: roughly, between 8-9 in the morning and 5-7 in the evening.

Good question. How the system deals with congestion. Two things:

1) Taxis make variable pricing possible, which gives markets an incentive to spread out demand. "Would you like a $15, 45 minute ride to San Francisco by 9:15, or $4, 25 minute ride arriving at 10:30?"

2) In big cities we'll start to see quick transfers to- and from- mass transit.

You'll push a button on your phone. The phone will say "Ride begins in 8 minutes to minimize transfer time". You finish your email, put on your coat and walk outside. A car picks you up, drives you to the transit center. You get out, walk across the platform, get onto a train. Train stops, you walk back across the platform into another car. It takes you to your destination.

Why? It will save you time in traffic if you care about, and it'll be cheaper if you care about that. Of course during off peak times, you can just take the cab the whole way for the shortest trip.


> sleep comfortably

Have you ever been in a car?

I've gotten plenty of sleep in cars, but never has the word "comfortable" crossed my mind when I woke up afterwards. I reckon it's something about that whole annoying safety thing requiring you to sit still upright strapped to your seat that ruins the comfort factor for me. YMMV though.


Self-driving cars of the future don't need to look / be shaped like a conventional car. Not all of them at least.

The ones designed for slow night travel don't need to be air efficient, they could be shaped like a big square with almost real beds (like on a train).


That would be hilariously unsafe in case of a crash. Look, we already have big square cars with beds in them, called RVs, and it's illegal and highly unsafe to sleep in those beds while driving.

It doesn't matter how slow and safe the autonomous car is, as long as it's traveling on the same roads as other cars, some of which are fast and driven by humans, crash safety is very much an issue.


Five years from now:

* All the big auto manufacturers are shipping self-driving cars. Volvo is the first to ship a Level 3 system to real customers.

* Tesla is doing OK, but the big electric car brand is Chevy.

* Waymo is a Tier I supplier to Fiat/Chrysler.

* GM and Ford are using their own self-driving technology.

* Uber is still around, but is out of investor cash, and has to be profitable to pay back its loans. The service is much more expensive to use. Their self-driving thing never works out for them because they can't spend big money to buy cars, build garages, and staff up for maintenance.

* Lyft is still around, about the same as it is now.

* The mini autonomous bus people have some installations, but they're rare outside airports and campuses.


Why Volvo?


"Level 3: Within known, limited environments (such as freeways), the driver can safely turn their attention away from driving tasks"

Volvo have announced shipping that in 2017. I don't think anyone else has. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2q00jIBhkq4)


Based on the videos on YouTube, I would say Tesla are already shipping that.


Tesla say you should look where you're going still.


Yes, I believe they have an L2 but are working towards and L4. Google is still going straight for L5, which is the only case where you can fully remove the steering wheel. It's a huge bed, and a bit silly, honestly. I feel like at this point, they've definitely got L4 down.

L4 basically says the car can drive itself without attention in most cases. Driver only needs to take over in extreme cases where the computer can't figure it out (something on the road blocking, sever weather, super abnormal situation).


That's provably false given there's been cases where Teslas have already slammed into other vehicles on freeways.


Volvo has been doing research on self-driving cars for a while, with existing vehicles in operation for research purposes.


Uber is literally all over the world, though. Google can barely launch a keyboard app outside the US. Or a payment system. Lyft is still constrained entirely to the US and a handful of large Asian cities.

I think people severely underestimate Uber's worldwide push in preparing themselves to be a force to be reckoned with when the autonomous vehicle takes off.


User is ubiquitous only because of its ability to burn an astonishing amount of money. Their bet is that they am do this long enough to make themselves the market leader. I am not convinced that they can continue to lose money at the rate they currently are for the future potential as a monopoly provider. At some point investors are going to ask for a return or bail on the company.


I don't disagree with you but people said the same thing about amazon for over a decade....


Amazon's biggest quarterly loss ever was about $437 million. That's roughly Uber's average quarterly loss, and Amazon did it on quarterly revenues of $20B, while Uber's revenues are optimistically $5B.


Amazon can collapse really fast. My bet is that if it does it will be almost overnight and everybody will claim that nobody saw it coming.

The reason I believe that it may collapse is because now when I want to buy something online I rather go to Walmart,Target or to the specific brand store. When I think of Amazon the picture that comes to mind is of shady people trying to scam me out of my money. My perception, even if erroneous, right now is that Walmart is less shady than Amazon when it comes to buying merchandize.

If enough people start to feel this way about Amazon there may come a tipping point and the entire company will collapse. Once the tipping point happens I don't think it will be possible for Bezos to reverse it, though he will spend mountains of cash trying to.


Do you actually go to the brand stores though? The other day I needed something that wasn't on Amazon, so I bought it from the retailer directly. And then I remembered why I love Amazon and Prime. The ordering was terrible, and I had to wait 10 days for it to arrive.

With Amazon the purchasing is seamless. That's where they really win. And they just keep making it easier. Now I can order things with my voice (using Alexa).


A few times yes. So far I've had good experiences. For example, when I decided I wanted to get a new leather notebook from my favorite brand [1] They had it in B&N, Amazon and the brand store themselves. I finally decided to buy it from the brand store and had no problems.

Of course, take everything I'm saying with a big grain of sand since this is all anecdotal. I've also purchased from Columbia Sportwear Store and some other brands that I do not remember right now. I guess so far I've been lucky.

[1] http://www.galleryleather.com/


Amazon is 1000% easier to use than to compare prices from different places. I also view it as more secure than entering my information on 10 different websites. I don't know that many people share your perception.


I'm the opposite, Amazon is a bajillion times more convenient for me to use than other online stores. And judging from how their business keeps growing, I'm guessing more people are like me than you.


I really doubt they'll let it reach a tipping point. Major companies keep tabs on user sentiment, etc, and tweak their operations accordingly. Small losses like some people finding them shady are expected in a profit maximizing model, much like lawsuits by burnt people are an accepted cost by McDonalds to avoid having the rest of their clients complain about cold coffee.


Do you have any reason to believe that many other people share your perception?

Also, doesn't Amazon have unique defenses against this possibility? If sales suddenly fall off a cliff, Amazon has AWS and lots of B2B products that could keep them afloat for a time while they tried to recover. If people en masse decided to stop shopping at Walmart, they would have nothing to fall back on.


> Doesn't Amazon have unique defenses against this possibility?

All they really need to do is curate their 3rd parties better. Problem solved.


Amazon's infrastructure is not easily replicated. As far as I can see Ubers infrastructure is essentially their app and whatever routing/mapping/job matching algorithm they have. Both of which could be replaced by a better implementation relatively easily.


what economies of scale does ride sharing have?


The same economy of scale that keeps people using Facebook despite constant privacy issues and bad press: the network effect.

That said, Facebook has a much larger network effect than Uber. The friction to create a profile and attend an driver orientation on a competing ride broker network is much smaller than telling your everyone on your Facebook friends list you're moving to Diaspora.


You know it's funny though because I stopped using Uber with the most recent update that completely screwed up the UX. There's a billion variables that will go into which companies succeed and fail.


I stopped using Uber because it completely stopped working once I set location access to "only while in use".


AFAIK, Uber doesn't even allow to set location access to "while in use". It's either "always" or "never".


That may have changed with a recent update. I'm pretty sure I set it to "only when in use", but the app updated soon after. Now I went back to check, and it got set to "never".

Why does Apple even allow apps to remove the "only when in use" option?


How does that work? Is it an iOS specific thing? I haven't launched the Uber app in a while and use Lyft instead - but I just turn location services on when I want to use it and off again afterward. How does the app get any say in the matter?


For the latest version, those are the only two location-services options.


I confirm, only those 2 options in iOS


What was the change that did it for you? I didn't notice that much different, at least in how i use it.


It became very difficult to override the position of the pin after the GPS decided it just had to know where I was instead of me.

Also the tracking you for 5 minutes after a ride is completely unforgivable.


They changed the UX, you now drag the pin after setting your general location and choosing your destination. I think this is because they want to suggest more efficient pickup locations instead of just wherever you happen to be standing. Felt a little weird at first but I'm already used to it.


Which is fair enough, but nearly every driver I've spoken with hates the pin and a reasonable percentage get lost unless you put a landmark in as the address.


Weird, I've literally never used a landmark and drop pins 100% of the time. I've been taking 2-6 Uber rides a week for about three years. I've never had a problem.


For me, it was when they required to know my location even when I wasn't using them. Always? Really? Nope.


It won't be worth anything because autonomous ride-sharing will be a pricing game. Anyone who undercuts Uber, and there will be plenty of willing and able companies, will beat them.


There are a few other things they could compete on:

- Availability. Who has the largest network and highest availability? - Car Design. Who has the most comfortable or fully featured cars? - Safety. Who has the safest car? Who has the safest track record?

It might eventually become a race to the bottom, but I think there's still plenty of opportunity to compete on other fronts for at least the next five years.


Availability barely matters though. When I need a ride I open Lyft, see if they have a car nearby, and if the answer is no, I switch to Uber. The switching cost is so low it's negligible.


Ability to clean / autonomously clean itself. I think this will be the next big thing for car ride fleets.


We tried this with our fleet of landrovers. Each one has a waterproof interior and is plumbed with sprinkler pipe with hoze-lock connectors on the back of the vehicle so it can be plugged in to the water supply.

It doesn't work, the water spray is not strong enough, or directed enough to remove the mud and sand. We still have to have people going round with water jets to spot clean. A have my doubts a fully automatic system could ever work effectively.


If you are competing on price for commuters the obvious thing is a waterproof interior and some high pressure nozzles in the ceiling. Car drives up to machine with hose, hose attaches, water sprays.


The obvious thing is to pay a couple of people minimum wage to sit in a parking lot and clean cars when they arrive.

A car with a waterproof interior would be miserable and cheap feeling. No one wants to sit in a humid, rubber car.


Having a few people waiting in a parking lot to clean cars is a far more cost-effective strategy. There's no need for complex automation on this.


An app that books the cheapest ride for you out of all the ride-sharing companies. Like Kayak but for ride-sharing. This comment is the same as a patent, right?


Uber attempts to keep control of what clients connect to its API for exactly this reason.


Arbitrage for cars - Carbitrage.

Someone already had the domain registered the last time I checked.


https://www.urbi.co/en/ same same but for car sharing services.

Ediy: seems to also include ride sharing now.


Google has ridesharing price comparison built into Maps already.


Here's a crazy business idea:

You know how a person nowadays can register for uber and drive people around?

In the future, maybe people will register their CAR (which can drive itself). So they sit at home, getting work done, while their car is off autonomously driving itself and picking people up. When you want it to come home, just call it home.


Which is exactly what Musk announced Tesla will be doing.


Hadn't heard that! This is why I'm not an entrepreneur apparently... Every time I have an idea, it's been done already by at least one person.

Anyways, you wouldn't happen to have that announcement handy would you?


Good ideas are a dime a dozen. Whatever you're thinking, a thousand other people on the planet have DEFINITELY thought of as well. The difference between people with ideas, and entrepreneurs, is that entrepreneurs make an attempt to bring that idea to life.



That just proves pricing is even more relevant.

Anyone could spin up an app that let's people lease out their self-driving cars. The existing ride-sharing consumers are not loyal to the apps.


> In the future, maybe people will register their CAR (which can drive itself).

Until an optimized business supporting lots of cars supporting fewer people undercuts the individual owner on price per ride, sure. Uber with individual driver/owners makes some sense, because you need the individual driver no matter what the ownership structure is. But with autonomous cars, fleet ownership is going to win over individual.


Literally pimping your ride


This comment made my day, lol.


Why wouldn't Toyota just launch Toyotas On Demand? If the cost of the car and fuel are the only significant costs, Toyota could probably do it more cheaply than Uber.

Uber's network effect is its driver network. It will find it a lot harder to compete if you no longer need drivers, when it has to compete with real car companies that could be able to undercut them on cost.


> Toyota could probably do it more cheaply than Uber.

I agree. The fact that autonomous cars will likely reduce ownership will put a squeeze on car companies, and it might make sense for them to branch into service areas, as they can get the cars at cost. I guarantee that for 10,000 Camrys purchased by Uber and 10,000 Camrys built and shuffled to a ride service division by Toyota, Toyota's ride-sharing division will get the sweeter deal on price.

Put another way, it's much easier for Toyota to start a ride service company than it is for Uber to start manufacturing cars to get them at cost.


I think that is suboptimal vertical integration. Hertz is a fleet buyer for a good reason; it doesn't want to be reliant on its Hertz Automotive subsidiary to meet a production quota. It doesn't want that capital expenditure. It wants to buy cars at volume and sell them as they depreciate.


> It doesn't want that capital expenditure.

Ah, but the car companies have already expended that capital. The problem here is they will have a lot of building capacity from all the factories they own, and possibly less to build with that capacity. There's nothing stopping them from buying extra needed capacity from another company, but in the meantime it may help them fill the lack of utilization they may see. At some point, some factories will need modernization as normal, and they can choose at that point to reduce factory capacity.

The point is that it's a possible strategy to get them from point A to point B when they've already banked heavily on certain future production trends if they've overestimated.


Hertz lives in an equilibrium where lots of people buy and operator their own cars. Autonomous cars may well move us to an equilibrium where most people do not own cars and instead rely on services. That totally changes the economics of the situation.


How does it change the economics of the situation? More volume or shorter rentals? Would having more frequent rentals mean that rental companies would want to produce their own cars?


It isn't efficient for Toyota to fully stock every city in the world for peak demand, and yet that's what they'd have to do to compete with the surging multi-manufacturer fleet of Uber.


They don't need to stock for peak demand. They don't need a monopoly (nor will they be permitted to get one).

To succeed worldwide, they simply need to be as good as Uber, but cheaper. And if the capital cost of the car becomes half of the cost base of taxis, a 10% saving matters.


To get as big as Uber means they need to be as convenient which means that there's always a car available. Uber handles that by being multi-brand, and by incentivizing their fleet with surge pricing.

Toyota would have to prepare for worst-case load and let those cars sit idle to keep them available. And they'd have to do that in almost every city in the world or their app would just be another local annoyance.

Also, if you order a Toyota and a Ford shows up you're going to laugh and tweet it.

On the other hand, it does give them a stable production target which would level out manufacturing spikes...


> On the other hand, it does give them a stable production target which would level out manufacturing spikes...

That's the underlying assumption I was working with. If they've invested heavily in production yet they see a downturn in individual ownership, it's a way to capitalize on that resource (factories) to stabilize production until some factories reach end-of-life and have theoretically paid for themselves. Factories which require large capital expenditure are not something you want to see sitting idle. Every year is another year where the tooling is becoming more obsolete.


I take it that Uber is betting on being thee brand for ride sharing. Maintaining market leadership is critically important for when autonomous cars take off. Even if any car manufacturer were able to undermine Uber on cost, Uber will already have a significant upper hand with people already seeing it as the company you call to get somewhere. The only question I ask myself when looking to go somewhere is, Uber or Lyft?

If car manufacturers tried to clone what Uber has built they'll probably flop on making the technology usable, and the experience may just be overall frustrating.


Demand for new cars will fall off a cliff.

People will still buy Rolls-Royce or Mercedes S-class for the comfort, but most Toyota customers don't care if they're car pooling with 3 other people or sitting in a car that's not their own.


I don't think it matters. The economics of Uber are pretty grim: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/11/can-uber-ever-deliver...

Furthermore, if there are a bunch of self-driving car services, that service will be commoditized the same way cabs are. These ride-giving services will [and kind of already do] only compete on price.


Uber's ride sharing model is fine for the major markets around the world (that have accepted it), but I think they're going to have to stretch quite a bit to successfully operate elsewhere.

Uber's autonomous trucking model is likely to aid in the complete change of that industry, though.


Uber is everywhere except China - http://fortune.com/2016/08/07/uber-china-didi-chuxing/


Facebook and Google are also everywhere except China.


I'm not aware Facebook and Google are burning $1B to be in China though.


They sold their business to Didi Chuxing, they're no longer taking that loss.


Not only is Uber no longer burning $1B to be in China, they now own a 20% stake in what is now a monopoly in China to (ostensibly) make all of it back and then some.


The key is in the hardware.

Yes, Uber may have a global precense, but that's from burning VC cash and they're not exactly successful in major markets like China. And for what? Uber is essentially a messaging app between users and drivers, and their users/drivers are not loyal.

Uber as a self-driving company would need to sell hardware to drivers to convert their vehicles into self-driving cars, and I don't think they'll have the bank to get that far, especially against larger companies with deeper pockets and existing hardware experience/partnerships.


They're already a force to be reckoned with. How do you compete against a company that might as well burn cash in the streets?

The rich are buying the future on the backs of the working class. When uber goes under, the jobs won't come back, but transit can't be that cheap. It's not like the cost of a ride was actually based on the cost of the car OR the labor.


Why would anyone own a house when they can rent an apartment? Why don't we share bathrooms with the neighbors? Why have a small garden that needs maintenance when there is a huge park nearby? Why did I just buy a printer when I need it so rarely and there is a copy shop downstairs? Why do people have washers when laundromats exist?

I think ownership means more to most people than just convenience or being the cheapest option.


A lot of people do choose to rent. Most people get food from stores, not gardens. Roads themselves are shared resources. Why did you buy a printer?


It does mean more, but it's not immune to other constraints, and it may be enough to make demand fall off a cliff. Cars are expensive (relative to the average income) and for many, it'll be hard to justify ownership if the alternative is cheaper.


Is there a particular reason to think Uber is going to be last to autonomous vehicles? I can see a good argument that they're head of the pack today, between Tesla's not-really-autonomous vehicles and Google's perpetual inability to execute.


Uber bought Otto [1] and is doing live trials of trucks on highways right now.

Otto was granted permission and began driving on actual highways in Ohio last week:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/self-driving-truck-h...

1 - http://www.reuters.com/article/us-uber-tech-volvo-otto-idUSK...


> Uber [...] they're head of the pack today

Head of the pack of dreams maybe. What does Uber have, in a tangible manner, right now? At least both Tesla and Google have real systems that are on the verge of full autonomy.


This is a fair point. Uber has yet to ship any hardware, and really any software aside from an app that is a couple steps above "Uber for X" that are whipped out in a weekend.

I know they gobbled up a bunch of researchers, but moonshot engineering feats like autonomous driving is not (yet) in their DNA. And their current business model is not profitable and will die the moment they go up against an autonomous service.

They don't need to be last to market to lose, they need to be first in order to survive.


>yet to ship any hardware

Except for the fleet of Ford Fusions and XC90's covered in very nicely implemented custom sensor rafts http://theincline.com/2016/12/12/three-months-of-self-drivin...


I don't particularly care for Uber, but they do have prototype self driving cars on the street in Pittsburgh. So it's not quite fair to say they're failing at this.


I see autonomous Uber cars out all the time near downtown Pittsburgh. In fact it's getting rarer that I don't see one.


I saw an uber car covered in a crazy amount of sensors a couple of days ago on Van Ness avenue... There was a human driver, so I assumed it was mapping the environment, but it might have been a test vehicle; it looked similar to the pictures of the autonomous cars in Pittsburg.


Uber will continue to hold a lot of the chips in this race. Consider the Tesla or GM examples - a regression in revenue will not be acceptable. So if they're currently selling x cars at y $ a year they will need to continue that revenue without actually selling cars. This means they'll have to get really good at understanding how many rides over the span of a vehicle will continue that revenue and provide just the right amount of vehicles to meet a regions needs. Uber has that information in spades.


Netflix makes a good example it is possible to make a major business model adjustment and return shareholders very well. I think investors have a very realistic view of how much the automotive market is about to switch. The companies who provide no evidence of preparing for the switch are just as likely, to me, to see their market cap plummet as ones trying a risky pivot.

Certainly some auto makers may choose to go down the route of executive assisted suicide and maximize shareholder (and executive) profit distributions in the process, as IBM decided to do. To pretend than the next 50 years will be like the last 50, I'm not sure how long that charade can hold up.

Personally I think Google and Apple are the ones who hold all of the chips. This definitely can be turned in to a commodity business with a few OS adjustments. There are some cards Uber can play to avoid this, like exclusive infrastructure agreements, although not really sure where that will be permitted geographically.

A more interesting question is will this look like smartphones where a single company gets 90% of the profits and the rest of the companies do huge volume but capture small to zero margins.


This means they'll have to get really good at understanding how many rides over the span of a vehicle will continue that revenue and provide just the right amount of vehicles to meet a regions needs.

And a pox on all of us if we hand firm control over regions to single players.


I dont see how that is the case. User is currently burning through more eyes to maintain their market position and that is without a fleet of vehicles to operate and maintain. Moving to autonomous vehicles may cut their staff costs\remove drivers from their costs column, but this cost is moved to vehicles and in many jurisdictions at least for the medium term a human driver will be required even if it is just paid to sit there.


My point was that regardless of the dollars and cents for Uber to transition from staff to cars, or even if it works out at all, Uber still has the information to decide it will take X cars in Y region to make Z revenue. The only other player with that kind of information (on a smaller scale) is Lyft.


> Private car ownership is going to fall off a cliff shortly after autonomous ride services arrive. Which probably means general demand for vehicles will fall off a cliff.

I really dont agree with this. Cars a so cheap now and I'd much rather use my own than some dirty shared car.

Already renting a car is annoying as you never know if you'll get charged for some damage that you didn't cause, I can't imagine having the same issue every day.

Having the car drop me off then go away and autopark is something that I'd value though. :)


Presumably, in a shared autonomous vehicle, the only thing you'd be responsible would be the interior. I would think this would be fairly easy to monitor on a user to user basis.


It's not either or. Autonomous service for commuting is still highly valuable even if you retain your own car.

Over the medium term, this will only encourage ever more massive and distant suburb creep. Also, with longer commutes less tiresome, the negative cost of having a longer commute will be mitigated.

As for the stranger effect, there are many innovations on that front as well. Google is already has a working app that tries to arrange commutes for true ride sharing where passengers only compensate the driver for the pure cost of the ride. It's cheap and effective if you are a bit flexible in the morning.

I can see autonomous services being so cheap that they become the new corporate perk and companies find value by having employees ride together, share ideas, socialize, etc.

Also, the economies of scale alone would make a private automated car trip still cheaper than owning privately an autonomous vehicle.

The technology will move fast enough that the vast majority people will be switching from a human operated car to a self-driving car service. I can see the ad campaigns now. Basically showing people how much cheaper and safer and more convenient it is.

Cars can be seen like horses were before them, an expensive hassle that requires land for storage and usage. If you think about it, people have whole buildings just for storing cars, garages, like we did with horses, barns.

15 years from now suburbs will be built without garages and driveways. There will be a cottage industry for people to convert garages and carparks into more usable space.

20 years from now, multistory car parking lots will be the new conversion buildings like the old meat packing and textile plans that used to be in downtown areas that were turned into lofts. Polished concrete floors will feature the original parking space numbers. The open sides will feature panoramic views.

Lastly, having your own car will be a throwback element. People who like to 4x4 or work on their own cars (a huge market that might actually grow in the medium term) will fill this but, even then they'll use automated services to commute. The number of people who have hobby cars (off-roading, auto racing, vintage collectibles, restoration) will skyrocket because a car no longer has to be a daily driver.

Or people might care less about cars, I don't presume to know the complex of a future of human desire. But, in a world full of cheap cars that you driver yourself, automated car services will still create so much value that people will still switch.


I disagree on the damage thing purely because this would be the same situation as Boris Bikes, which actually work really well.


a whole industry of workers will be out of the job. How will society react? Will we have a socialist revolt? Want to stay clear from politics... but seriously why isn't anyone talking about the socioeconomic impact this will have once drivers are put out of the job?

IMHO this is the reason Trump won the election, because there is no plan for these people.


There are plenty of conversations around that idea here. UBI for example. Some people think that the population in general will retool (some will get left behind). Others point to the horse population in the US that went from some 5 million to a few hundred thousand following mechanized transportation as an example of what will happen to the middle class.


"Retooling" sounds like such a great idea when you're a 20-something urban male single software engineer, you've got nothing to lose, and the world is yours to take. It also sounds like a great idea when you're independently wealthy and you don't have to work for a living, so you can afford to bloviate from your ivory tower.

Most other demographics have very a different perspective on that concept, and for good reason.

There will be cataclysmic changes ahead if we don't seriously reconsider, well, everything about society. Under the current way of thinking, millions of people will get sent to the glue factory - to persist in your horse analogy here.


I'm with you entirely.

I have no idea how to solve this problem. My cousin's husband is a truck driver. He makes a six figure income running between Indy and Chicago (bang, bang). He's going to retire before they can get rid of him, but this is a huge issue.

I tried to explain this problem to my father, who's a CPA. I've pointed out that his firm can get by with a dramatically smaller office than it use to due to tech. Same's true for his lawyer friends. I pointed out that the law firms are not training the next generation like they use to since they use fewer low-level lawyers for research thanks to Lexus Nexus. Account is next.

I'm not a huge fan of UBI since I think that makes people slaves of their State. We've seen such enslavement in the US under welfare programs. We've set the program up to lock people in. If they try to get out, they will lose benefits (donut hole issue). I think UBI is like that, but worse.


> I'm not a huge fan of UBI since I think that makes people slaves of their State.

When America will be able to shake off its own mythology about this notion of the "State" as an inherently bad actor - then, perhaps, America will be able to get out of the current rut it's stuck in.

Yes, the "State" can be bad (I should know, I grew up in an actual bad "State" in the Eastern Bloc before the revolutions). But at the other extreme, societies can sabotage themselves from within, trigger the social equivalent of an autoimmune disease, and collapse from endemic distrust in the system - which to me is pretty clearly the direction America is going now.

There surely is a better middle ground somewhere.


America was founded on the notion that the state is a bad actor.


And it will fall on that notion too if it fails to adapt to a changing economy.


> > America was founded on the notion that the state is a bad actor.

> And it will fall on that notion too if it fails to adapt to a changing economy.

I agree with both statements.


Isn't the whole point of UBI to be Universal? People don't lose the benefit if they earn additional income and everyone gets it so it shouldn't have an inherent stigma to receiving it.

I'm not actually sure its a practical option, but I don't see 'enslavement' as being one of it's downsides - where's the 'lock in'?


My concern is what happens if a block of people start to become disenchanted with UBI. Will the State cut their funding? Can the State, as the sole employer, lock the group out of the political discourse?

In general I'm not a fan of going to the United States government hat-in-hand. Look at Scotland. They do that with the Brits. They're kicked around all the time.

Here's an example. South Dakota v Dole, the Supreme Court said the government could tie general funding to states to enacting state laws. In this case the states had to raise the minimum drinking age to 21 if they wanted road funding. What's to stop the government in a UBI world, from putting different life-rules on its people.

The government goes from working for the people to providing for the people. That's a massive power imbalance. I don't know of any government I want to give that power. I do know it's not the United State's.


A UBI should be universal, so you can't lose benefits - it's only as bad as how you become slightly less rich when your income goes up under progressive taxation.

The closest real problem I can think of is not being able to move to a $15/hr minimum wage city from a poor area because you don't have the starting capital to buy the basics there.


> I'm not a huge fan of UBI since I think that makes people slaves of their State. We've seen such enslavement in the US under welfare programs. We've set the program up to lock people in. If they try to get out, they will lose benefits (donut hole issue). I think UBI is like that, but worse.

Bad policy structuring, because welfare programs are legacy programs and were designed when Economics was still in its infancy.

Also keep in mind that the welfare population is a minority. It's similar to the bank anecdote - if you owe the bank $1000, you have a problem, if you owe the bank $10,000,000, the bank has a problem.

When tens of millions of people in a country with gun ownership depend on UBI - any government structure that tries to reduce benefits or eliminate it will become a target of the masses.


Won't happen in the USA. Due to our puritanical obsession with "earning" a living through labor, we'll never see Basic Income. It would be more politically do-able to pay 1/2 the people to dig holes and the other 1/2 to fill them in, than to implement a sensible UBI system.


What I don't get, even now, is the lack of public works. Digging a ditch and then filling it is dumb. Why not have individuals on welfare work cleaning out the forests in California? Playing a role in sensible land management implements? There are many places that the unused labor could benefit the people. At least then there is a work/trade for the money. In the end, those people get life lessons that would benefit them in the workplace.


Right. Instead of just giving people money our governments at federal / state / local levels should become employers of last resort for everyone who has exhausted their welfare or unemployment benefits. Guarantee 30 hours / week at minimum wage to anyone who wants to work. Even if it's just trail maintenance or graffiti cleanup they will at least be maintaining basic employment skills, and have enough spare time to retrain for something better.


What? Everybody is constantly talking about it. I have heared almost as much about that, compared to the actual technology.

The answer is of course the same as with any other reason people lose jobs and have done so in the past. It really is nothing new. Neither in scale, nor in severity.

Also, every state already has system to deal with that stuff. The hole point of a generalised systems is that you don't have a major political crisis everytime insert <big company or industy> suffers job loses.

That Trump won because of them is an assertion that is made often, but hard to proove or even show good evidence for.


Musk is talking about Universal Basic Income regularly. I also can't really see any other way this will pan out.


What happened when cars were first invented? What happened when interchangeable parts were invented? Every time some new tech gets close to being revolutionary, the same sky-will-fall arguments get repeated. New markets are created, new industries develop; the economy continues to grow and worldwide poverty continues to drop.


Why would it be different than previous instances of whole industries being out of a job? There was no revolt when the US shipped manufacturing overseas.


And what is Trumps so special plan for them I wonder ?


You've mentioned $1 a ride a couple of times. Where is this number coming from? It doesn't pass the smell test to me. Even bus fare is several times this amount.


Let's do some rough math here.

Say initial cost of the electric self driving car is $50,000. It has life of 20 years. After 20 years, value will go to 0.

Per year: $2500

Service per year: $2500 (HN mechanics, is this reasonable?)

Miles travelled/ year: 50,000 (5x human utilization)

Miles/Kwh: 3 (based on tesla efficiency)

Avg electricity cost in US: 12c / Kwh

Cost to drive 50,000 miles: $2000

Total / year: $7000

Cost per mile: 14c / mile

Average trip length: 7 miles

Cost per trip: 98c (very close to $1)

I think this is definitely possible.


50,000 miles/year * 20 years = 1,000,000 miles does not seem reasonable...


1 million miles is unreasonable for humans driving gas guzzlers.

Not for electric self driving cars which optimize for safety and wear and tear. They have less moving parts too.

There are plenty of trucks, buses and taxis that have done a million miles in 20 years.


If I have to bet against anybody it will be Uber. They will be burning cash and given that Google just gave up on building hardware why would one think Uber will succeed?


> why would one think Uber will succeed

Uber hasn't demonstrated a capacity to succeed, but unlike their rivals, they need self-driving cars to succeed for their company to succeed. The CEO has called self-driving cars "existential" to Uber.

Contrast this with Google. Self-driving cars are an expensive hobby to Google, and completely inconsequential to the success of their core business.


To be fair I don't think Google is the gold standard for hardware. Outside of a few successful hardware releases (Chromecast and arguably the pixel line) they seem to struggle in this area.


But that doesn;t mean companies should be afraid to try new things. History is evident that more companies died resisting the change than anything else. Car ownership going down should not mean companies like Uber should not venture into self-driving cars although by burning huge VC money. Even the VC's who funded would want Uber to the fore runner in the self-driving cars. The other factors why companies are still investing although they might loose money are:

1) It will take atleast 5-7 years for self-driving cars to become ubiquitous. Till then there is good uprising market for every player to make money. secondly, if you have a product ready, it might open up new markets in future which currently no one realizes.

2) Car ownership will still be there. People who can afford it will still prefer private self-driving car than waiting for Uber/Lyft. I would say self-driving private car will be seen as a new luxury status.

3) car manufacturing will definitely go down with less demand but car manufactures will venture into different pricing model with ride companies. Right now, a car is a one time sell for a manufacturer. It might be subscription which ride company uses.


This assumes autonomous vehicles exist, which they don't.


Wait five years. It'll almost certainly happen. The technology is solvable and lots of very big companies are spending billions to make it happen.


That's what people said five years ago. I am sure something will happen eventually, but it will take longer than people expect and the results will never be as good as people are currently fantasizing that they might be. We'll get to "good enough" but never to "great".


I don't know of anyone who was saying self driving is only five years away in 2011. It was still a fantasy then.

Now we actually have working software and hardware, and real people are experiencing self driving. I live in the bay area, but not a month goes by that I don't see a self driving vehicle at some point. And that's not counting the Teslas that are autopiloting their way down the highway next to me that I don't even know about.


How is it that "real people are experiencing self driving"? I was under the impression that Google's autonomous vehicle and other projects like it were still all technology research prototypes. There is a very big difference between the sort of next-generation cruise control driver assistance features Tesla and others are providing, and the sort of fully autonomous wheeled robot people are fantasizing about when they hyperventilate over the city of the future and its wondrous transportation technologies.

Maybe my negative feelings are excessive; I'm just really, really tired of having people jump in with the whole "but self-driving cars will change everything!!!" routine every time people try to have a serious conversation about public transit investment.


They're more than just prototypes. Their employees are using self-driving cars for their daily lives. If you have a friend who works at Google (well Waymo now) who is using the car, you can get a ride. Also, as a driver on Mt View roads, I have experience self-driving as someone behind and next to the vehicle. They aren't the "robotic" drivers you'd expect, but fit in pretty well. They still show signs of being a robot (like the way they approach a turn with a biker is very mechanical) so you can tell it is self driving, but it clearly works.

And also there is Uber's self driving fleet. They are actually taking people from place to place who use the Uber app in a self driving vehicle.

In all cases someone is still at the wheel, but they aren't doing anything other than monitoring and logging the ride and cases where the car didn't behave like a "normal" driver.


Will they stop when they see a ball fly across the street, because a child may be chasing it. Fringe cases will determine their success. Until then, it will be glorified cruise control.


Do all humans stop when they see a ball? Of course not. Some of them miss it, some of them ignore it, some of them don't make the connection.

The problem is people expect self-driving cars to be perfect on day one. They won't be. But they are already safer than humans driving.


Then the question arises who is responsible for that imperfection. Remember the Toyota auto acceleration issue and how that played out socially.

Safe driving is one of the most complex things done by people. If tech companies are good enough to solve that, there many things more profitable and easier to solve.

I beleive it will be more realistic for them to develop seprate and exclusive infa for these vechiles. We can then plan rest of the things around that infra.

Integrating self driving cars into current infra will require a true AI or something closer.


I'll be a believer the first time they actually put a fully unmanned vehicle on a public road with no "safety" driver on board. That'll be big news indeed and indicate that the technology is far enough along to be taken seriously on a massive scale.


For some very limited use cases five years may be realistic. For a car that can do everything and go everywhere a human driver can it's more like 50 years.


What limited use case though? Driving around a populated city? They can already do that. And that covers a whole lot of use cases.

There are already autonomous Ubers taking people around Philadelphia and now San Francisco.

What limits do you think will exist?


"Nuclear energy will be too cheap to meter"


That's still true, if not for government regulation. :) Wait for the new Republican admin to make nuclear cheap again.


> Also: Private car ownership is going to fall off a cliff shortly after autonomous ride services arrive. Which probably means general demand for vehicles will fall off a cliff.

Or, if everyone has a self-driving car of their own (or one that can be converted to self-driving), people will rent out their cars AirBnB-style when they aren't using them. I mean, why not? You've already got a garage, a driveway, etc. Might as well make a few extra bucks with your vehicle...


Not going to happen, or if it does it won't last. The so-called sharing economy has mostly just devolved to low-barriers-to-entry entrepreneurship. AirBnB listings start off with ordinary joes renting out their spare bedrooms, but they got crowded out in a few years by businessmen providing real services, and consumers follow.

Uber drivers at first were mostly just driving in their spare time, but over the years the professionals came in and crowded them out.

The lesson here is that it takes work to provide a level of service that consumers are willing to pay for. That work is best done through organization and professionalization. Some guy renting his car out during the work day isn't going to find it profitable enough to continue doing when he has to compete against dedicated on-demand rental services.


But AirBnB and Uber require the owner to invest effort: cleaning the house (or arranging the cleaner) and driving the car. If you could hire your car out fully autonomously that changes the equation.

It's like you're saying I shouldn't bother with my zero effort $100-a-month passive income just because somebody else is making $200-a-month with higher margins.


As an AirBnB user, that's completely opposite to my experience - 9/10 have been ordinary people doing it on the side, not pros. I suspect the picture is different if you raise the "price" slider (I go for the cheapest third, usually), but I still see plenty of supply.

Is that crowding out supported by any data?


Two sides of the same coin. If you can rent your neighbour's car, why own your own?

Heck, why have driveways? In cities, at least, I could fully imagine new townhouse developments operating more like apartment buildings: one central parking lot for the "pool" of (mostly) driverless cars. Your car drops you off at your door and then parks in the pool; then comes back out to get you in the morning.


While driverless cars obviously make short-term car rental more attractive on a cost basis, I think that people here tend to overestimate the impact of this.

* A large percentage of people will want to have their own car because they don't want to put up with the occasional hassle of unavailability of rental cars during a peak time, and/or occasional long waits for the car to reach them (particularly when they are being picked up in un-dense areas). And before you hand-wave this away, note that the more of a cost advantage you give to rental cars (ie, the higher the utilization of those cars), the more of a disadvantage cost/wait time will be.

* People -- and very especially families with children -- also value cars as a mobile depot for their stuff. If you have kids of certain ages, this is practically a necessity. I definitely am not going to screw around with not just a carseat but like a dozen books and snacks and wipes and cups and so forth every time I get into/out of a rental car.

* Then cleaning and status and all the other things that people regularly bring up here.


* Availability can be addressed with a dedicated option, where you pay extra (if a fleet) or get paid a bit less (if renting out your self driving car) to ensure there's always a car whose destination's time distance from you plus remaining trip length is less than some amount you specify such as 15min.

* To address the mobile depot use case, I've heard of proposals to have storage areas (possibly trunk, but not necessarily) that are only accessible by the owner, not by renters. Even that may not be perfect though, I do see your point.


Sure, availability can be addressed by paying more, but the entire value proposition here is that you pay less.

Is there a sweet spot where you still experience significant cost reductions but the inconvenience is small enough that you don't mind it? Well, certainly, for some people! But I think the number of people is going to be a lot smaller than many commentators think.

(The only cases I see where there's no increase in the rides-for-hire business after full automation is if the cost of cars drops to the point where there's very little incentive to try to reduce the costs for most people. Given that cars are quite expensive now, that seems unlikely. I can construct a scenario, but you basically have to believe that, first, the additional cost for driverless sensors+software is very low, second, that driverless software is so safe that you can drastically decrease physical safety features on cars, and third, probably that automation drives significant GDP growth).


> Is there a sweet spot where you still experience significant cost reductions but the inconvenience is small enough

It's not that hard. For one thing, you don't need to increase the price much, you just need to increase it a little so that you push cost-over-everything riders out of the queue. There are enough of those that whatever capacity is left should be plenty.

And you are worried those riders who were pushed out of the queue will go back to car ownership, but they are by definition cost-over-everything people, so of course they won't do that. If they could afford to own a car they could afford peak pricing.


> Heck, why have driveways?

My point is that millions of them already exist, with a distributed network of roads leading to them, as well as storage (garages). It would be costly to suddenly rip all those up.


They could be used for other purposes. People filling their garages with other junk and then having to put their car somewhere else is so common already. The driveway can become a front yard.


This is an interesting thought experiment. What do people feel about recreational driving or weekend leisure driving ? For commuting, I am totally in favor of autonomous vehicles. But for a weekend or leisure drive I may not want to bother with shared ownership.

I am not from U.S. but the experience I have had with using local air travel (with Southwest) in the U.S. I am prepared to caffine up and drive up to 400mi rather than bother with the hassles of flying. (I have done that a few times and found it quite enjoyable, maybe there was a novelty factor to it)


You would call a car on your phone (with maybe a ski rack or whatever you need). Car will drive itself to you and you can drive it manually or in automated way over the weekend. When you return back home, car drives itself away. No hassle with maintenance, repair, parking.


As someone who once had a long-distance relationship with a 400mi round trip, I'd say it's a little of both. There's a novelty factor, but there's also a part of it that some people find enjoyable.

Having the right car helps: trips made in my almost-busted Honda Civic were much less enjoyable than the ones in my brand-new-custom-ordered Mini Cooper. :) The right soundtrack, the right weather, and the right caffeine vehicle are major factors as well.


I tried renting out my car for a month in Oakland; it routinely smelt like weed and McDonald's fries, which got annoying enough that I stopped renting it out.

A fleet would be able to handle these sorts of things better.


Counter anecdata: I've been renting out my car in SF for 6 months and it's been great; pulls in $600-1000/month.


What service do you use to rent it out?


This seems more likely.

So far sharing economy companies don't want to vertically integrate their whole service stack down to physical goods. It requires capital raising, and is low margin compared to the value that they provide by scaling their main services. Maybe they will once they've achieved full market penetration and are struggling to increase their profit, but that's decades away IMO.


But why have a garage and a driveway in the future? If you can "hail" a self driving car within 5 minutes then having one in your house becomes a waste of valuable space.


Cleaning comes to mind as a serious, unsolved problem here. The reason I like my own car is because I know the history of its dirt.


I wonder what the worst case scenario is here. I'll put Muni-level syringes and human waste as the worst. But (1) fare evasion wouldn't be a problem and (2) the 1% of worst offenders who account for 99% of the disgustingness can be readily blacklisted.

I suspect the typical case will be a drunk person throwing up in it on the way home. Hopefully they self-report; if they don't, it comes to the next rider to report it, who does and gets a generous reimbursement, charged to the credit card of the last rider.


But who's going to want to deal with that? Not most people. I would not rent out my car for the same reasons I'm not a landlord.


Another reason why private ownership won't make sense. You don't clean it, X Company does.


I've been using "car-sharing" (really an unfortunate mis-nomer) systems for some time now. Cleanliness has never really been an issue.


All I see when I look at a car is a very costly set of risks. I'd rather pay for someone else to manage those risks. Car subscriptions++



And the fallout for the economy will be interesting. What does it do to home prices when a long commute is less of an issue? What happens to all the cottage industries built around the assumption of someone owning and driving their car? Etc.


There's also Zoox, which is trying to build the car and taxi service from scratch.


It's too bad these companies are not working together on this stuff since any improvements to safety would be a win for everyone.


I would disagree: fierce competition is what will get us there the fastest. Every company is already a team of people working together. Let the games begin, and may the best team win. And may we, the consumer, forever reap the benefits :)

In a cooperative environment, bad players bring everyone down. In competition, they drown, and only the strongest survive.


I have the feeling that Toyota actually is going to make it for everyone. They are incredible car makers.


And incredibly horrible software makers.


Can we also make it mandatory for these autonomous cars to be electric and not use gas?


Reminds me how quickly I forgot about Uber test fleet from not long ago.


The world is bigger than Silicon Valley, or even the US.


> in 5yrs

bold prediction: They won't have fully autonomous cars.


Define "fully".


Where is Apple's in that list? ;)


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