THE IMPACT OF SELF-DRIVING CARS
February 27, 2018
General Manager, Uber
Can you imagine a world where there are less cars on the road, vehicle accidents are less frequent, and parking lots are beautiful areas of community gathering rather than storage for our cars? We can. The promise of a shared, electric and autonomous future is core to our mission. And while it won’t happen overnight, self-driving will be an important part of the future of transportation.
A recent study by the International Transport Forum of the OECD found that a shared, self-driving service could reduce the number of cars on the road by 90 percent or more. With that, our cities would become unrecognizable, with so much of the stress and cost gone from everyday life.
Our cars sit idle 95 percent of the time. As a result, up to a fifth of the land in some cities is used to store these hunks of steel. Not homes or schools or parks—but parking spots and parking lots. In the U.S., there are eight parking spots for every car, covering an area 12 times the size of New York City. There is a tremendous opportunity cost to parking, though it’s something we often don’t count. It’s space that could otherwise be used for bike lanes or more affordable housing. But, today, in most cities, parking is encouraged not discouraged. New homes and offices need to have a minimum number of parking lots: space that may not be needed and only increases costs.
The good news is that there is an alternative to a world that looks like a parking lot and moves like a traffic jam. It’s a world where more people share rides, less people own cars, and more take public transit.
In December 2016, the state of Arizona took a huge step in making this future a reality, leading the way in embracing ridesharing. Governor Doug Ducey made the sharing economy one of his top priorities during his time in office, making Arizona an ideal place for Uber to introduce self-driving cars.
Over the course of the past three years, we’ve been hard at work to develop the safest, most reliable, and cost effective self-driving solution. In September of 2016, we launched the first-ever self-driving vehicle pilot in Pittsburgh, PA. And in February 2017, we took to the Greater Phoenix area where we pick-up riders daily. We still have some work to do, but we’re proud of the progress we’ve made, especially our most recent accomplishments of driving two million autonomous miles and completing over 50,000 passenger trips. Our second million autonomous miles were driven in just 100 days, compared to the 1.5 years it took to complete our first million.
Uber has strong self-driving engineering groups. That, coupled with the practical experience that comes from running a ride-sharing and delivery service in hundreds of cities worldwide, world class manufacturing partners like Volvo, and the intelligence that comes from doing 1.2 billion miles on the road every month gives us an advantage to create a difference in transportation.
The technology uses a combination of lidar and cameras which complement each other to keep passengers safe. A top-mounted lidar unit provides a 360, 3-dimensional scan of the environment while forward-facing cameras focus both on near and far fields, watching for braking vehicles, crossing pedestrians, traffic lights, and signage. Side and rear facing cameras work together to construct a continuous view of the vehicle’s surroundings, and radars work to detect other objects in the surrounding environment.
When it comes to testing the vehicles, real-world operations is critical to the success of this technology. We currently operate throughout the greater Phoenix area 22 hours a day. We still have many challenges to solve in the cities we operate, and our pilots enable us to identify what those challenges are and build both software and hardware solutions to address those challenges. This will bring us closer to a fully autonomous system.
As we look to the future, we will remain focused on building the safest self-driving product out there. Our ultimate goal is to reach fully autonomous capabilities in a limited geographic region, but we are not ready to take our technology there just yet. We feel confident that we are on pace with the rest of the industry and will deliver a fully autonomous system in the coming years. With Uber, people can push a button and get an affordable, reliable ride across town. And this type of technology has had an incredibly positive effect on cities around the globe — from cutting the rate of drunk driving to getting more people in fewer cars — we are helping to reduce congestion and pollution in our cities.
A better future is within our grasp—it’s one where people share rides and take public transit simply because it’s a better option to owning a car. It’s a future: where people have equal access to affordable transportation; where they spend less of their income on cars or commutes, and less time stuck behind the wheel; and where parking spaces are replaced by parks and affordable housing.
Megan Prichard is Uber’s General Manager for the West. She oversees the rideshare business’ daily operations, including partnering with local governments to continually improve transportation options in Arizona. Prior to joining Uber, Megan was a consultant with McKinsey and Company focusing on digital strategy. She holds a B.A. in economics from Yale and a J.D. from University of Southern California.