GM Sets Its Sights on Autonomous Taxi Service

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.

When Robots Meet Humans on the Highway

Pete Bigelow, Transportation, Technology and Mobility Editor at Car and Driver reported through MSN Auto potential hazards of the transition period in which self-driving cars and human drivers share the road.

A report by the Governors National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, titled Autonomous Vehicles Meet Human Drivers states:
“State laws need to be adjusted, studies need to be performed on how the presence of automated vehicles changes the behavior of human motorists, police officers need to know how to treat autonomous cars and their occupants, and motorists need training on self-driving features.”

Officials at the NHTSA are worried. They suppose many drivers will continue to want to drive themselves for some time. It may be a generation or two before the societal standard becomes driverless vehicles.

Bigelow writes:

“Some of the open questions he poses are well-established quandaries, such as determining whether self-driving cars must always obey the speed limit, even if doing so presents a nuisance or a danger to other cars on the roadway. Other pitfalls are more complex, such as how police officers and lawmakers might handle human motorists who bully or take advantage of self-driving systems programmed to leave extra room on the road or move conservatively.”

And these are just a sampling of the unanswered questions auto makers, law enforcement officials, state and federal agencies are going to have to work together on.

A dark side of self driving cars

It isn’t just that there may be less insurance issues, with the possibility of needing less employees in the industry, but the Victor crew came across an article from Slate that talks about it affecting donor organs.

With less fatalities caused by accidents, the viable organ pool will go down for those needing transplants. The article points out that about 6,500 Americans die waiting for a transplant and another 4,000 are removed from the list because their problem has progressed past the point of needing an organ transplant. Liver and kidney disease kill more people than some cancers. Currently there are more than 35,000 people killed each year on the roads. One in five organ donations come from road accidents.

It is sad there will be less help for those needing transplants but to reduce the number of traffic deaths from 35,000 is a good thing.

Uh-oh. Say it isn’t so!

This week, Uber launched a fleet of self-driving Volvo SUVs. Within hours, one of these cars ran a red light. The video below was recorded from a Luxor cab in San Francisco. That same day, someone in a Lyft car witnessed another similar incident.

Uber claims these incidents were due to human error as right now, they are requiring people to be seated behind the steering wheels. Drivers have been suspended over this.

Questions about Self-Driving Cars

Here are some questions the Victor crew wonders about self-driving cars:

Will pedestrians become bullies? Self-driving cars will stop if there are pedestrians. We already see in big cities where pedestrians push the limit on when to walk but if they know a car is self-driving, will we see them going ahead and blocking the path?

Will drivers of regular vehicles become bullies? If they know you are behind the wheel of a self-driving car, they may just go ahead and cut you off in traffic.

What if you are trying to back out of a parking space? Will people and cars just keep moving behind you and keeping you from getting out of your spot? Unless they are looking to park in your spot you could be stuck for a while.

What about insurance? Will self-driving cars require this? Maybe not the full coverage we have now but there is always the possibility of damage from natural causes (hail, floods, etc.) or even other non-self-driving car drivers.

What would one have as a defense for someone that is showing road rage? The car did it?

What if you like to go over the speed limit by a couple miles and so does everyone behind you? Are you stuck doing exactly the speed limit?