Just imagine you’re at a taxi rank and you hop in the back seat and say: “Hi, I’ve got to get downtown.…” Then you realise you’re the only person in the cab. You’re in a robo-taxi… a fully autonomous vehicle.

Surely a self-driving vehicle won’t exist until 2030?  Well, actually, it’s looking more and more likely that this phenomenon will hit the world as early as 2019. The biggest automakers in the world are gearing up for a robo-taxi revolution that will change the face of transportation forever.

Last month, General Motors (GM) announced that its president, Dan Ammann, will resign from his corporate president role and take up the reigns as the CEO of the Cruise division.

This promises big things to come. Back in 2016, when GM bought Cruise for about $1 billion in cash and stock, it was a startup with 40 employees. Two years on, and there are now more than 1,000 staff at the company’s Bay Area headquarters.

The new Seattle office will add even more moving parts and engineering talent to the mix. Testing is already taking place almost exclusively in San Francisco. More places will soon follow.  In the robo-taxi space, a storm is brewing and it’s set to hit the roads of multiple U.S. cities over the next 12-24 months.

Some places have already been revolutionised, including:

  • Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, is set to launch the world’s very first driverless taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona this month
  • Daimler and Bosch will be launching a driverless taxi service based in San Jose, California
  • Ford plans to test its own driverless taxis in, Washington, D.C., early in 2019
  • Zoox aims to put out its own fully electric self-driving taxis next year
  • Tesla’s Elon Musk has long speculated that owners of Tesla cars will be able to “rent out” their own cars as taxis while not in use
  • Uber and Lyft have both long planned to replace their human drivers with automation

These companies are all racing to the finish line to come out on top when the dust settles. The duopoly of Uber and Lyft likely serves as a pretty solid model.  The robo-taxi market is estimated to be worth $330 billion by 2026.

These developments mean that transportation costs will drop dramatically. In advertising its robo-taxi plans, Ford stated that its large-scale rollout in 2021 will likely feature taxi fares that are just half of current Uber rates which are already a fraction of the cost of regular taxi rates.

Alphabet’s Waymo is also floating the idea of offering free rides in their robo-taxis — as long as you’re willing to watch a few ads as part of the deal.

One thing is for sure: 2019 will likely be the year of the autonomous taxi.

Written by Atal Hakikat

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