Enrique Dans
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Enrique Dans

What Waymo’s purchase of 20,000 Jaguar I-PACE really means

In case you still doubted that autonomous driving is going to be a reality in our cities from 2020 on, check out the latest move from Waymo, the Alphabet subsidiary working to make self-driving vehicles a reality: it’s just bought 20,000 Jaguar I-PACE electric cars, which together with the several thousand already acquired from Fiat-Chrysler announced last January, now make up a more-than-respectable sized fleet. Waymo calculates that it will be able to offer around no less than one million journeys every day using only the Jaguars. To put that into context, in November 2017 in New York City, the combined taxi fleet took an average of 336,737 trips each day. On that scale, and considering that Waymo is competing with GM and others, by 2020 it will be perfectly normal to use autonomous vehicles in most US cities.

We’re talking 18 months down the road; Waymo intends to begin road testing autonomous taxis by the middle of this year and by 2020 aims to be operating a fleet of several tens of thousands of vehicles throughout the United States: Americans will soon overcome any fears they may have had of autonomous vehicles along with concerns about absurd hypothetical moral dilemmas, and instead they will see them as a normal part of the urban landscape and the transportation option of choice. Waymo says it intends to offer a range of vehicles for different uses: commuting, going out to dinner with friends, or even cars that allow passengers to sleep during their journey. In cities where the number of daily trips justifies it, we will see a rapid substitution process. Within a relatively short time, we will only use taxis driven by people in urban centers where it is not possible to ensure a constant rate of use for vehicles.

Waymo took almost six years to accumulate its first million autonomous miles, but the second took less than 18 months, the third in eight months, the fourth in six, and the fifth in just 90 days. The company’s fleet will be capable of clocking up many millions of miles every day, with all that this entails in terms of learning and improving. Algorithms have long been better drivers than the best humans, and will soon be ready for virtually any situation. Of course, there will be accidents, and some autonomous Waymo vehicles will cause deaths, but far fewer than human drivers do.

All this will lead to many changes to our cities. Today, the dominant color on the streets of New York is changing from yellow to black as the fleets run by Uber and other companies expand in numbers and in daily trips well above traditional taxi companies, even prompting some drivers to commit suicide as they see their livelihoods disappear. By 2020, the dominant color may well be the white of Waymo’s self-driving taxis. As I have noted on several occasions, the enemy of taxi drivers isn’t Uber, but the technology behind autonomous driving, and it is here to stay. In the same way that online searching, social networks and e-commerce are each controlled by one company, we will see a similar monopolization of transportation. Driving will cease to be a human activity, and instead will simply be another very expensive hobby. There will be no need to ban us from driving: the cost will make it prohibitive except for the very wealthy.

And all this is going to happen, mark my words, in just under two years. And you are going to see it. Are you ready?

(En español, aquí)

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On the effects of technology and innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at enriquedans.com since 2003)

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Enrique Dans

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger (in English here and in Spanish at enriquedans.com)