(REPOST: The Guardian)
The chancellor may have been keen to talk about the autonomous future in his budget, but the money that talked loudest last week came from Uber’s billion-pound deal with Swedish carmaker Volvo.
The scale of the order suggests driverless cars could indeed be just around the corner: 24,000 Volvos are to be kitted out with the ride-hailing company’s self-driving technology between 2019 and 2021. Assuming a robot driver can do three times as many shifts as a human, those cars alone could replace, for example, every non-Uber taxi or minicab in London.
How Uber deploys its new driverless SUVs remains to be seen: but the news underlines how the technology could rapidly change the face of transport, manufacturing and work. So who will win and lose in the driverless future?
Technology companies: The race has been led by Google’s self-driving division, now spun off as Waymo, which has just started trials of a driverless taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona. Even before its first lift has been hailed by a member of the public – and without having made a car of its own, as it currently buys in Chrysler minivans – Waymo has been valued at $70bn (£52bn) by Morgan Stanley.
Mobileye, an Israeli maker of chips and cameras for self-driving vehicles with revenues of only $300m a year, was bought by Intel for $15.3bn in March. Uber is rushing to develop its own robo-taxi tech to scale up profits on its enormous global customer base.
Richard Cuerden, academy director at the British transport research centre TRL, says of the future: “It’s very unlikely that we will buy cars as we do now for personal ownership. Firms will make money through things like data sharing and advertising.”