Self driving cars have long been a thing of epic sci-fi movies. When you ask someone to describe what they see the future looking like in 20 years, odds are self driving cars come up in the conversation.

We’ve romanticized over the idea for years. Now all of a sudden this future is looking like it’s a whole lot closer to becoming an immediate reality.

Google has been testing self driving cars on the road since May of 2o15, the unmanned vehicles have covered more than 2 million miles. It’s no secret that the big players in the rideshare industry want a slice of the pie. Both Lyft and Uber have announced plans to incorporate self driving vehicles into their business plan. But just how far out is self driving rideshare?

 Self driving rideshare car

But Just How Far Out is Self Driving Rideshare?

It exists. Right now in Pittsburgh, self driving vehicles are giving Uber rides. The city is ground zero for a self driving test zone (Advanced Technologies Center) that was set up about a year and a half ago.

It’s not actually a full fledged self driving vehicle city, yet. Right now only a small portion of Uber vehicles are self driving cars. The rest of the vehicles are Uber X’s with drivers and all the normal boring stuff you would expect in an Uber ride. Oh yeah, and the self driving vehicles come with a safety driver.

So they’re self driving, kind of. Uber hasn’t actually unleashed the technology in its full self driving form just yet. Being that it’s ground zero and this is all for testing, that’s probably a good thing. One of the scenarios the self driving vehicles need a human override – bad weather. Apparently self driving vehicles handle weather problems as poorly as the rest of us.

Ultimately, it’s a huge step forward for Uber. They appear to be ahead of the game in self driving vehicles for rideshare. And they have a noble cause to go along with the technology – reduce human error and make the roads safer for all of us.

Where is Lyft at in Self Driving Technology?

In January of 2016 GM invested $500 million in Lyft. The partnership is heavily focused on one thing, self driving cars. GM had long shown interest in self driving technology, and Lyft is the perfect vehicle for that vision.

It all sounds great, but Uber already has self driving cars giving Uber rides. So where is Lyft at?

Days after Uber announced their self driving tests in Pittsburgh, Lyft president John Zimmer chimed in on Lyft’s game plan.According to Zimmer, Lyft has a three phase plan for introducing self driving vehicles:

  1. Autonomous vehicles that operate on a fixed route (sometime in 2017)
  2. Self driving cars with a max speed of 25mph (around 2019)
  3. Fully functional self driving vehicles (2021-2022)

Personally, I’m a big fan of the road map that Zimmer has laid out. It also makes a lot of sense. Early autonomous vehicle technology will very limited, fixed routes are the best way to minimize risk as the technology becomes more refined. With that said, Uber still has a leg up on Lyft being that they currently have autonomous vehicles on the road.

What Hurdles Are Left for Autonomous Rideshare?

The technology is awesome, I can’t wait to hop in a self driving Lyft/Uber myself. But let’s be realistic, there are still plenty of hurdles to come.

  1. Legislation: Since 2012, 17 states have brought up the autonomous vehicle debate. Only Florida, California, Nevada and Washington D.C. have put laws into place. There is a lot of lobbying ahead of Uber and Lyft, legislation may come with a hefty price tag.
  2. Lawsuits: It doesn’t matter how much safer self driving vehicles are. The first autonomous vehicle caused accident will open the door for countless lawsuits. At this point, it’s safe to say settlement funds have already been budgeted in for Uber and Lyft.
  3. Financing: Uber and Lyft are not capital intensive businesses, at least in theory. They provide an app and some insurance, then drivers bring their own vehicles and operate as independent contractors. It’s a great business model. So how do self driving vehicles come into play? It’s a huge capital investment with enormous maintenance expenses to follow. The cynical side of me wants to say it’s all a ploy to increase their private valuation and bring in more investor money before an IPO – it all sounds kind of bubbly. But then again, that’s why I’m here writing about it not out calling the shots.

We’ve seen rideshare companies overcome huge hurdles in the past four or five years. Rideshare wasn’t legal in a lot of states and cities, but Uber and Lyft went there anyways. They’ve fought legislation and won. They’ve fought driver lawsuits and won. A lot of people didn’t think they’d replace the taxi industry – and then they did.

If there’s an express route to self driving vehicles, Uber and Lyft have the formula. It sounds like they’re putting it into play a lot faster than we imagined.



Photo Credit: romanboed Flickr via Compfight cc

Self Driving Rideshare Vehicles | How Soon Will We See Them?
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