Are Robot Taxis The Future?
Just 20 years ago, in car entertainment and electric windows were the pinnacle of consumer auto technology. However, today much of the work going on behind the scenes of the major vehicle manufacturers is more comparable to something straight out of a sci-fi film.
We're talking of course about the emerging autonomous vehicle market - or, in layman's terms, self-driving cars. In the past few years, it seems like the auto industry has been moving closer and closer to bringing out vehicles that edge drivers out of the picture, with everyone from Ford to Google trialling self-driving vehicles.
So far, the majority of talk around the development of self-driving cars has fallen within the consumer area, with most concern looking towards what a market filled with driverless vehicles would mean for the everyday driver. However, as self-driving technology moves closer towards reality, some have looked towards what autonomous "robot" vehicles could mean for public transport, and in particular, the taxi industry.
Most recently, a Japanese company calling itself "Robot Taxi" has set itself the challenge of getting a fleet of self-driving taxis on the streets by the 2020 Olympics. The company says it aims to provide a "revolutionary and affordable transportation alternative" to current taxis, and looks to work with the government and local authorities to make this a reality.
When looking at the wider picture - both in terms of the taxi industry, and self-driving tech – Robot Taxi's goals seem quite optimistic for a couple of reasons. Firstly, very few of the current leaders in self-driving technology estimate that they'll have a fully autonomous car for sale by 2020. Whilst Ford, Tesla, Google, and more have estimated they'll have partly autonomous vehicles for sale by 2020, the closest is perhaps Jaguar, who plotted out 2024 as the year they'll release a car requiring zero human input. Secondly, Japan's cities are some of the best served by taxis in the developed world, with Tokyo having around four times as many private hire vehicles on the streets as New York. With an uncertainty that the necessary technology will be ready, a thriving industry to compete with, not to mention a shady legal status to contend with, the chances of robots completely replacing humans by 2020 seem fairly slim.
However, this doesn't necessarily mean that driverless taxis don't stand a chance. Perhaps more feasibly, Robot Taxi has suggested that one of the main functions of its self-driving fleet could be to provide a "more convenient transportation option to non-drivers and those who have limited access to public transport'. A promotional video released by the company gives the example of people living in rural settlements, who due to public transport limitations no longer have an effective system of buses and taxis to rely on.
It's perhaps these rural areas that would benefit most from driverless vehicles, and also be more open to the new technology. For the established taxi industry, isolated or rural areas present less of a business opportunity when compared to larger settlements. In these locations, demand is likely to be smaller, less frequent, and more sporadic than in the city, meaning that drivers who could serve these areas may in fact migrate to more built-up areas to work, leaving a gap for a driverless fleet to fill. As well as this, it's highly unlikely that any government would allow self-driving vehicles to be released into heavily populated cities immediately. However, less populous rural areas present a lower risk environment for driverless taxis to be tested and trialled, and as such it would make sense for them to be initially rolled out in these areas.
With all this in mind, a future with "robot taxis" could be more complex than you might initially assume. Rather than representing a threat to a hundreds of years old profession, self-driving taxis could instead work in tandem to the established industry. Whereas traditional manned vehicles would carry on their trade in cities and urban hubs, driverless vehicles would realise their potential as service providers in areas where the established industry doesn't operate. In essence, taxi drivers needn't worry about losing their job to a robot any time soon.
You can't buy a driverless taxi just yet, so why not do the next best thing and look at the taxis for sale we have online today