Uber and Google to face-off in connected taxi service

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Uber, the new-generation taxi service, has been in hot water a lot lately, with accusations of its drivers attacking or sexually harassing customers. One way to get around that issue would be to drop the drivers altogether and replace them with automated vehicles that drive without human intervention at all. However, Uber may not be able to create and dominate that market all by itself, because according to a report from Bloomberg, Google is set to go to war over the connected taxi service, championing its connected pod cars instead.

This might seem a bit counter-intuitive and unfair of Google, since it invested over a quarter billion dollars in Uber back in 2013 and went on to put even more money into the business in 2014. Now though, it looks like it might be set to go head to head with the app taxi service. According to the inside source that leaked this rumoured information, the Uber board was recently shown an application that would allow people to call up an automated Google car and have it drive them to a specified location, all without a driver.

This apparently didn’t sit well with Uber, which is now considering whether Google chief legal officer and current Uber board member, David Drummond, will be asked to step down from his position.

For its part in the push for ever-more connected vehicles however, Uber recently teamed up with Carnegie Mellon University. It plans to develop its own automated car technology and will look to implement it in the next few years to create cheaper alternatives to its current taxi system.

podcar

While connected cars aren’t expected to work anywhere but in big cities for some time, they would have the potential to make them far more efficient. With cheaper running costs due to low speed operation and lightweight bodies, fuel consumption and pollution would be down, as well as noise output. On top of that, they would be far cheaper for passengers since there would be no need to pay the driver – even if the original car’s expenditure would be significantly higher than current taxi cabs.

Connected cars that are as efficient and fast to respond to calls for a service, could also help reduce the numbers of cars on the road. If people feel they can always get a taxi that’s cheap and efficient, they may do away with having their own car altogether.

While unrelated to Uber and Google’s developments, connected buses are also a big potential change in our travel futures. If they were electric, they could charge as they pick up customers from overhead power cables and could operate much more cheaply thanks to the lack of a driver who’s salary needs to be paid. Chances are they would be safer too, since a piloted vehicle never gets tired, hungry or angry and would never perform risky manoeuvres.

It will be interesting to see if Google or Uber would ever consider larger taxis or minibus services with their automated vehicle fleets.

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.