The Wall Street Journal reports that General Motors aims to launch a public ride-sharing service across several cities that uses fully self-driving cars by 2019, potentially becoming the first traditional car maker to deploy autonomous technology at scale in the real world.
Describing self-driving cars as “the biggest thing since the internet”, the company said it eventually expected to make profit offering rides to the public for as little as $1 a mile. Car makers are racing to develop self-driving cars to use in fleets of robo-taxis in order to tap into a potentially lucrative new market and gain first-mover advantage in an industry that McKinsey says will be worth $1.5tn by 2030.
Huge hurdles remain before any manufacturer can roll out vehicles in the real world, both in developing the technology and in convincing regulators to permit vehicles without human drivers to operate alongside motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Companies seeking to operate driverless ride-sharing fleets also face stiff questions over how to make profits from such a cost-conscious service, which also sees them move beyond their traditional skills by running a network that matches customer demand with available cars, and is likely to see carmakers themselves assume significant costs such as vehicle depreciation.
GM said it had not yet decided whether to offer its own service or use a partner such as Lyft, the ride-booking app in which GM invested $500m during 2015. But in setting a 2019 start date, the car maker has claimed a lead over some of its closest competitors.
Ford recently announced it will partner with Lyft to provide self-driving cars, in large numbers, to the ride-services fleet by 2021. Ford and Lyft teams will begin working together to design software to allow Ford vehicles to communicate with Lyft’s smartphone apps.
The company has said it will invest $700 million in a factory in Flat Rock, Michigan, to make it capable of building electric and self-driving vehicles.
Ford self-driving test vehicles will be connected to Lyft’s network, but at first, customers will not be able to use them. Ford will put human-driven vehicles on Lyft’s network.
Ford also is testing delivery services using self-driving vehicles and a van shuttle service. The self-driving vehicles Ford will deploy through Lyft will use software developed by Argo AI, a company in which Ford is investing $1 billion over the next five years.
The FBI is investigating Uber who is under suspicion for illegally tampering with the operations of competitors, according to the Wall Street Journal. The focus of the investigation centers on a software program known internally at Uber as “Hell” that could be used to track drivers working for rival service Lyft.
The program, discontinued last year, allowed Uber to create fake accounts and track drivers and ride prices. This also allowed Uber to obtain data on drivers who worked with both the car-ride providers and could have allowed it to lure drivers to leave Lyft with cash incentives.
At the time of the WSJ publication Uber could not be reached for comment.
The key question for investigators was whether the program comprised of unauthorized access of a computer. The investigation is being led by the FBI’s New York office and the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office.