How Far Are We from the Futuristic Robo-Taxis?
The short answer? They are already here!
The long answer is that autonomous vehicles, especially taxis, are not a thing of the future anymore. Many players in this particular segment have already launched a prototype and have been experimenting with their performance in the real world out there. Tesla, Lexus, BMW, General Motors, and many other manufacturers, even Uber, are implementing their plans to introduce autonomous cars. In fact, they all have promised to put them into commercial production and release them to the dealerships near you within just 5 years.
In addition, many industry experts predict that in about a decade, travelling via an autonomous cab would be 5 to 10 times cheaper than owning a vehicle. So, the next car you are going to buy will probably be your last.
The good thing is that you don’t have to wait 5 years to catch a robo-taxi. Since 2016, Uber has put on the roads what they call “partially autonomous” cars. These cars are completely autonomous for the most part of the rides. However, there will be a driver sitting in the driver seat, just to make small corrections to the car’s path, if the computer fails to make the best decisions. Regulations dictate that the driver will have his or her hands on the steering throughout the journey, although the driving decisions will be predominantly made by the car’s computer.
So, yes. There are robo-taxis already roaming around the streets of America. As Uber assigns taxis randomly, you never know when you encounter a partially autonomous taxi. If you do, then Uber offers those rides free for you.
It appears that there is a highly competitive race between various players to put their autonomous vehicle on the road first. Tesla, for its part, has already entered into a deal with the government of the UAE and Dubai Taxi Corporation to supply 200 autonomous Tesla vehicles for their taxi fleet. As part of the deal, Dubai will have an autonomous fleet as early as 2030.
There is some difference between the approaches of Uber and Tesla. Tesla will modify its Model X and Model S, by fitting them up with new hardware that will grant them enhanced capabilities. This hardware will not only give these cars autonomous capabilities but also make it possible for riders to select their destination using augmented reality technology. On the other hand, Uber’s cars will be retrofitted with versatile hardware that can be used to turn any vehicle into an autonomous vehicle. The riders can choose their destination on a touchscreen.
While the road presents a huge challenge in navigation for the computers of today, the sky opens up an expanse of nothingness where the autonomous vehicles will have fewer obstacles to navigate. With this idea, the Chinese firm, Ehang, is taking the autonomous vehicle race to the skies. That’s right. Ehang is testing its flying taxi – Ehang 184 – in the skies of Los Angeles and Dubai this year. The Ehang 184 is designed to sustain flight for 30 minutes at a maximum speed of 160kph.