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Drivers fear job losses as Uber launches self-driving cars


Approximately three weeks after the world’s first self-driving taxis were launched in Singapore, Uber has launched its own autonomous taxi service in US city Pittsburgh. While the company sees it as “a big step forward”, many are concerned about the automation of the taxi industry.

Currently, the technology is being piloted, meaning there are only four self-driving vehicles which are available to the company’s “most loyal Pittsburgh customers”. It also means that in each car, there are two technicians; one ready to take over the wheel and another monitoring the car’s behaviour. Gradually, the company hopes to reduce this to one technician, and eventually no technicians.

Uber is using the Ford Fusion as its autonomous vehicle; fitted with 3D cameras, GPS and LiDAR technology on its roof. The company has also bought 100 Volvo XC90s, which it hopes to retrofit with self-driving technology and add to its fleet of self-driving cars by the end of the year.

Uber has stated that its self-driving service will reduce traffic incidents, free up 20 per cent of space in cities and cut congestion.

However, not everyone is pleased with the company’s transition toward autonomous vehicles. Many have expressed concern that hundreds of thousands of people will lose their jobs once the technology is rolled out throughout the US and the rest of the world.

Two years ago, when the company had only just begun testing autonomous vehicles, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick responded to criticism with the following tweet:

Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 2.27.28 PM

“But, only two years later and not 15, those robot cars are now deployed by Uber on the road in Pennsylvania,” noted Recode.

Today, Uber has responded with the following statement on its website: “Technology also creates new work opportunities while disrupting existing ones. Many predicted that the ATM would spell doom for bank tellers. In fact, ATMs cut the cost of running a local bank so more branches opened, employing more people. Self-driving Ubers will be on the road 24 hours a day, which means they will need a lot more human maintenance than cars today.”

This new move by Uber and other companies such as nuTonomy reflects what has happened in the manufacturing industry with the advent of automation – less manual jobs for unskilled workers and more jobs in machine maintenance instead. The general trend in the industry however, has been towards less jobs overall.

In an interview with Business Insider Australia, Kalanick maintained that the company will still require human drivers, albeit a much lesser amount (5-10 per cent compared to 100 per cent).

“We are going to go from 30,000 to, let’s say, hypothetically, a million cars, right?” said Kalanick.

“But when you go to a million cars you’re still going to need a human-driven parallel, or hybrid … because there are just places that autonomous cars are just not going to be able to go or conditions that they’re not going to be able to handle.

“And even though it is going to be a smaller percentage of the whole, I can imagine 50,000 to 100,000 drivers, human drivers, alongside a million car network.”

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