In May, we released a report suggesting the Uber and its drivers could be heading into a war. There is a race against time for drivers to gain more power against the company or risk falling victim to Uber’s wider ambitions. The San Francisco giant has always viewed itself as a tech company and not a transport provider.
The thing with tech companies is that they like to innovate with technology. Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick has rarely hid the fact the he one day imagines the service running entirely through autonomous vehicles. While the technology is some way off being ready for such a project, Uber has started development of that ambition.
Consequences of an autonomous Uber fleet on drivers would be profound. The more than one million operatives driving for the company around the world would find themselves instantly out of a job. The fact they are currently just freelance contractors and not full employees is hugely important. As employees, Uber would find it hard to displace 1 million workers even in the name of tech advancement. As freelancers the drivers can be discarded without a fight and more importantly, no compensation.
Uber’s reasons for wanting an autonomous fleet are obvious. The profits from fares that the company currently shares with drivers would flow all to Uber … It is a dream business prospect.
The company is now testing its first autonomous program in Pittsburgh, where customers can now get rides in self-driving vehicles from their phone. This development actually pushes Uber to the front of the autonomous class. Not even driverless vehicles leaders like Google and Tesla have managed to get such a program up and running.
Volvo will be supplying SUV’s in collaboration with Uber. At the moment a driver supervisor will be on board to take control when needed. Autonomous technology is not at the stage where a driver is not necessary or where a steering wheel could be removed. It is getting there though, and many predict full autonomy will come to cars within the next decade.
To entice consumers to take the autonomous option, Uber is making rides in the self-driving car free. The company says when the service launches properly, autonomous fares will be much cheaper than those with a human driver. A middle finger to drivers or not? We’ll let you decide.