Smart city

Race to deploy the first self-driving cabs hotting up

  • 16 Mar
  • 2 min

Automobile manufacturers and on-demand ride service firms have been announcing the imminent launch of autonomous taxi fleets. We bring you up to date on the latest developments.

Experts have been telling us for quite some time now that the future of urban mobility is likely to belong largely to self-driving electric taxis.  Judging by the number of recent announcements, these predictions now seem about to come good. Both autonomous vehicle manufacturers and on-demand chauffeur-driven service providers are keen to be part of this new approach to mobility, and while they are for the moment only running pilot tests in this field, competition definitely appears to be hotting up. Partnerships are being forged to capitalise on the new opportunities. The parties to one of these alliances, Nissan and DeNA, are planning to test their driverless taxi service in Japan next month. Mercedes and Bosch are also preparing to roll out their solution in a few months’ time – probably in Europe, given that this information was relayed by a German media outlet. Meanwhile Ford is already testing two types of autonomous vehicle in Miami, Florida – one for making deliveries and the other, using technology developed by startup Argo, designed to transport passengers.  

While these mainstream carmakers are checking out the reliability of their vehicles and setting dates for rolling out their services, Google group subsidiary Waymo has just been given the green light to begin running an on-demand cab service in Phoenix, Arizona this year and Cruise, partnering with GM, has scheduled the start of its service in San Francisco for 2019. Electric car specialist Tesla has already delivered 50 vehicles intended to become driverless taxis to the Dubai Road & Transport Authority. Recently Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted about his firm’s collaboration with Toyota – and potentially also with other carmakers – expressing the intention to have autonomous cars operating as part of the Uber network within a year. Meanwhile Lyft is also working on its own tech solution, a fact which has not prevented the San Francisco-based ride-hailing specialist from signing agreements with GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Alphabet's Waymo, NuTonomy and Ford. Last but not least, Chinese ride-hailing rival Didi is planning to work with Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi to develop its own fleet of autonomous vehicles. Unlike the shuttle services already in existence, these driverless cars will be operating in unrestricted areas and will have to cope with a wide variety of obstacles, which is still causing disquiet among US citizens. If the technology comes through all the tests successfully, convinces the general public and receives regulatory authorisation, then widespread adoption of this new approach to getting around will be just a matter of time. In which case the autonomous vehicle market could, according to a study published last May by consultancy Frost & Sullivan, be worth close to $83 billion by 2025

By Sophia Qadiri