Telsa Might Be Gearing Up to Take On Uber

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Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has been posting publicly to Twitter lately about the companies urgent plans to get their self-driving car software to achieve full autonomy.

These Tweets and others alluding to the importance of the program and the push to improve it have many speculating that the company is preparing to join the race to launch a self-driving car service able to rival the one being built by the world’s reigning car service: Uber.

Tesla just launched its Autopilot feature last month, and currently it enables limited self-driving functions such as allowing the cars to steer themselves on highways.

However, the technology has had it’s shortcomings, and response from the public has caused some controversy. Drivers immediately began a trend of posting reckless videos to YouTube that demonstrated things such as the cars’ inability to detect worn lane markers which can cause near-collisions.

It should be noted that Musk and Tesla have always stipulated that drivers should remain attentive and ready to grip the wheel at any time.

Tesla and Uber aren’t the only companies looking to achieve a vehicle with full driving autonomy.

The race has been on in the auto and tech industries for some time. Currently, Google is prototyping vehicles in Mountain View, CA. The University of Michigan has a testing facility open to a number of traditional automakers and tech firms for testing their software. In a previous blog, I discussed when Mercedes-Benz joined the race. Last month, General Motors also announced plans of its own for self-driving vehicles.

The competition is stiff, but Tesla’s main competitor in the self-driving space might be Uber. Earlier this year, the transportation company did a gigantic hiring round directly out of the robotics department at Carnegie Mellon University, recruiting most members, including the director, right into its self-driving program.

The reason for this race is simple: companies are worried that if self-driving technology proliferates the market, fewer people will own cars because they will be able to rely almost entirely on fleets of self-driving vehicles that come on demand, like Uber or Lyft drivers do now for cities.

It’s unclear who will be at the first company through the driverless door, but all auto companies know that some form of self-driving capabilities will be necessary if they want to remain competitive.

Maybe Tesla is on a hiring push in order to break ahead of the pack. Maybe they just want to perfect their currently flawed product. Either way, it will be great to see who get’s to that final truly driverless product first.

Mercedes-Benz Announces Possibility of Driverless Uber Service

Mercedes-Benz is considering expanding its audience beyond drivers who are looking to buy cars– in fact, their newest venture may not include drivers at all.

Dieter Zetsche, owner of Mercedes-Benz’ parent company Daimler, told Reuters about possible plans for an on-demand limo service similar to Uber, except for one huge differentiator: the cars would be driverless. Mercedes-Benz already runs a car-sharing service app called “car2go,” in which people use their smartphones to find and rent nearby Daimler-owned cars, but this is much more exciting. It’s sounds futuristic, but it’s all part of the current race for the first autonomous vehicle to hit the market. The race is probably most popularly championed by Google, which promises to have a self-driving car by 2020. That’s not the greatest news for Mercedes-Benz because their prototype of a driverless car won’t be released in showrooms until 2025 due to liability issues, according to Reuters.

In the meantime, though, Daimler is already making moves. The company joined Audi and BMW earlier this summer in buying HERE, a high-definition digital mapping service created by Nokia. And Zetsche says that driverless cars are a “concrete development goal.”

Other big-name contenders like Audi, Tesla, and Ford are attempting to master the art of self-driving cars as well. But Mercedes-Benz is one of only a few companies that are attempting to combine the concept with a taxi service. Some of their biggest competition? None other than Uber itself.

Uber and its many drivers have a love-hate relationship, thanks to ongoing conflict about drivers’ pay and their statuses as employees in general. (Independent contractors or employees entitled to benefits like gas money and tips? The battle wages on.) For more ease and to save money in the long run, the company has been trying to move toward driverless cars and is currently testing autonomous driving systems. They even created a tech center staffed with a whopping 40-member team of scientists and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University.

Adding to the competition, other short-notice taxi services are popping up in cities, like the Via app that offers $5 prepaid rides from 32nd Street to 110th Street in New York City. Clearly the first driverless service would have a leg up over competing on-demand limo companies. And as Zetsche told Reuters, it would be “even more convenient if the car came to you autonomously.”

But one thing is for sure: Uber drivers provide a uniquely interesting and human experience that driverless cars won’t. One of the biggest appeals of a job with Uber is the amount of interaction you get with new people. It’s a convenient way to learn social skills and hear new perspectives from various customers– but that would take a backseat to this latest venture, where convenience, practicality, and time-saving would rule over all.