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Self-driving Giants Don’t Want People to Have Their Own Cars

Self-driving cars are with us: Waymo and Uber are involved in a very nasty courtroom battle over the alleged theft of self-driving tech trade secrets, just as Alphabet-owned Waymo prepares to launch a driverless cab service in Arizona. This is not a drill anymore— unmanned vehicles are a near-reality.

Does that mean we are all going to buy our own self-driving car to be chauffeured around ?  If you ask some of the companies working on self-driving cars, the answer is no— we won’t; and we shouldn’t.

A group of companies— including ride-hailing startup Uber, its rival Lyft, its Chinese rival Didi, car-sharing company Zipcar, and mobility app Citymapper, among others— has released a manifesto listing a series of principles aimed at shaping policymakers’ decisions regarding autonomous vehicles.


Uber, Lyft and Didi want to be the only self-driving cars in town (via Bosch)

Titled “Shared Mobility Principles,” the document is overall quite vanilla: its ten key principles seem to have been purposely devised to be uncontroversial, affirming such platitudes as the necessity that companies  “prioritize people over vehicles” and that they “engage with stakeholders.”

The tenth and last principle, though, is more insidious. It states that “autonomous vehicles in dense urban areas should be operated only in shared fleets.” [emphasis mine]

“Due to the transformational potential of autonomous vehicle technology, it is critical that all AVs are part of shared fleets, well-regulated, and zero emission,” the proposal reads.

“Shared fleets can provide more affordable access to all, maximize public safety and emissions benefits, ensure that maintenance and software upgrades are managed by professionals, and actualize the promise of reductions in vehicles, parking, and congestion, in line with broader policy trends to reduce the use of personal cars in dense urban areas.”

In other words, these companies are lobbying for a future mobility paradigm in which they (and companies  like them) own all the self-driving cars, and individual car-owners essentially disappear.

To be clear—there is not denying that the rise of autonomous vehicles will radically change the relationship between people and their vehicles: a lot of proud car-owners will probably decide that they can just sell their cars and hitch a ride from Uber’s or Waymo’s self-driving cabs. Still, these companies are not making a descriptive statement, but a prescriptive one— in other words, they are calling on regulators to forbid people from using their own self-driving cars in cities.

Granted, this is not government regulation: it is just a proposal put forward by a pressure group. Still, it offers an interesting glimpse of the mindsets of some of the most relevant actors in the self-driving car field.

And it looks like the future they envision is one where they are firmly dominating the market, and the fruits of the technology they are developing are for them only to pick.

Image via Bosch


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