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February 27, 2015

Uber Making its Own Self Driving Cars – Will this Mean Smooth Sailing, or Trouble Ahead?

Three years ago, Uber took the ridesharing market by storm when it released an app that allowed customers to order taxi services from their Smartphone. Today, tech savvy cities like San Francisco bring in $18 million in revenue per month for the company. Other major cities, like Washington D.C, Chicago, and Los Angeles, bring in an average of $13 million a month. The company is currently expanding at a rate of 369 percent a year and even secured an additional $1.2 billion investment to expand into Asian markets. Amongst all this money, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced it is taking that investment and placing it in self-driving cars. The announcement has brought with it plenty of excitement, skepticism, and competition. Read on to see if the projected plans for Uber’s self-driving cars will mean smooth sailing (or driving) ahead, or if it could spell trouble for the company.

The Plan

In May of 2014, Uber publicized its plan to replace its drivers with automated cars to cut costs for customers. The expense associated with owning a car or paying a driver could mean that automatic services can replace car ownership altogether in the future. Tech giant Google has also been working on an automated taxi service since 2013, but the recent option to call Uber from inside Google apps has many wondering about a future merger. Other companies, like Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Tesla, have also entered the self-driving race, making competition fierce.

The Technology

Uber has teamed up with the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon to produce automated taxis. Together faculty and recent graduate students are working with Uber employees at the Uber Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh. First on the list is to develop the mapping technology to get vehicles to navigate the roads safely.

The Future for the Drivers

Uber has spent the last two years touting the number of jobs the service has created. A long-time Uber driver in New York City is said to have a salary of $90,000 a year. The recent announcement has many employees worried about their job security. Uber technically classifies its drivers as independent contractors because they supply their own car for the service. This means Uber does not have to pay for the cars’ upkeep or benefits for their employees. With 160,000 contracted drivers across 161 cities, the announcement came as a shock.

Uber has no plans of slowing down. It will continue to expand across the globe over the next three years, creating many jobs in major cities. Uber’s automated cars aren’t expected to hit the road until 2030, but Google expects its model to hit the road in 2020. A feud already seems to be developing between the tech giants which could expedite their arrival, but we’ll have to wait to see. For now, drivers are here to stay even with the looming threat of automation.


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This article was written by Dixie Somers, a freelance writer who loves to write about business, technology, and women’s interests. She lives in Arizona with her husband and three beautiful daughters. Dixie got advice for this article from Rod Gregory, an attorney in Edmonton who specializes in motor vehicle offenses and impaired driving cases.

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