Uber recently unleashed a fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh. While the cars do have a remote engineer ready to take over in case of emergency, the cars’ navigation is entirely autonomous. The cars contain a tablet in the back seat, allowing the passenger to input GPS and payment information. They even include a “stop ride” button for frightened passengers who may have a change of heart mid-ride. While the idea of a self-driving car may be fascinating, the ability to send out cars without drivers has some interesting implications for the future of technology.
The government is looking to purchase and perfect Uber’s self-driving mechanism. If patented by Uber, autonomous piloting technology would give the company a supreme competitive advantage in the transportation industry. On the other hand, the government taking control over the technology would make it more accessible to the masses, and the potential for saving money, time, and labor could yield huge benefits. While the federal government is interested in the technology, there has been backlash from certain cities. New York City, Chicago and Boston have all considered banning autonomous cars due to each city’s heavy and erratic traffic. Dense traffic makes autonomous cars more susceptible to the ineptitude of human drivers.
For now, Uber’s “self” driving cars still require human assistance. The main drawback to the self-driving car is that it does not account for the incompetence of other human drivers on the road. Humans consistently make irrational decisions and engineers have yet to figure out a way to get autonomous cars to adjust. The autonomous cars also have difficulty operating in heavy traffic or in extreme weather conditions. In these scenarios the Uber employee has had to manually take the wheel in order to avoid potential disaster. With the progress of technology, it is inevitable that Uber will overcome the need for a driver, an event that will no doubt shake up the future.
The major costs of running a business have always included land, labor and capital. Uber’s newest innovation cuts out the cost of labor entirely. Moreover, the autonomous cars represent a worldwide shift in employment as technology perpetually phases out employees. A self-driving car requiring no human assistance is simply the latest step in this trend. As technology continues to replace human labor, the infrastructure of companies will change in unpredictable ways.