Last week, Elon Musk promised that ‘one million robo-taxis’ will be on the road in 2020.
Robo-taxis would give Tesla owners the opportunity to use their vehicles for autonomous ridesharing, making money for the owner. The move would put Tesla in direct competition with Uber and Lyft.
The prospect of robo-taxis is exciting, but is not without its flaws. Here are some of the pros and cons I see when it comes to robo-taxis.
The money sure is nice
Using the Tesla model, the money generated from the robo-taxi service could go back to the owner of the vehicle. Not to mention this is money you’d be generating passively while you’re not even using your vehicle. Musk predicts that a robo-taxi could last for “11 years, and make $30,000 gross profit per car annually”.
I don’t know about you, but an extra $30,000 sounds pretty nice.
You’re safe from strangers
Samantha Josephson was murdered after getting into a vehicle she thought was her Uber. Other riders have been the victims of sexual assault; CNN repored that “at least 103 Uber drivers in the US had been accused of sexually assaulting or abusing their passengers over a period of four years”.
Uber and Lyft have rolled out some additional safety features to try to combat these issues, but no matter how you splice it: When you use traditional ride sharing services, you’re getting into a car with a stranger.
You’re not safe from everything
There’s a funny scene in Silicon Valley where Jared gets stuck in a driverless car on its way across the globe. A driverless vehicle going rogue will be a lot less funny when it happens in real life.
There are a lot of things that have to go right in order for a robo-taxi to be effective. What happens if a tire blows out? Or an engine fails? Or, arguably worse, what if the on-board cameras fail and it becomes impossible for the vehicle to avoid obstacles?
In California, self-driving cars are being deployed with trained professionals standing by to intervene if necessary. However, these trained professionals may be tasked with monitoring multiple vehicles at once, which would certainly make it much harder to keep riders safe.
Prepare for some crowding
We’re going to see an increase in traffic and public transport will become (even more) unbearable, because robo-taxis will not have to park, causing them to stay on the road longer.
To further complicate matters, robo-taxis are aiming to serve large cities; Which will be the cities most susceptible to gridlock.
Millard-Ball published a research paper in February. In the paper they generated a simulation that added 2,000 autonomous cars to the streets of San Francisco and found that the robo-taxis slowed down traffic to less than two miles per hour.
Just think about that for a second: Travelling two miles per hour. Surrounded by empty cars as these robo-taxis search for their next riders. It’s not my idea of a good time.
There are many pros and cons to robo-taxis (there are a number of economic issues to unpack as well).
However, as long as safety issues are kept at bay, I believe robo-taxis will help serve human freedom. Anything that helps people become more free is pretty interesting, if you ask me.