May 2, 2017
Uber Promises No Driver Layoffs With Launch Of Self-Drive Cars

Uber is finally launching driverless cars for hire. Should Uber drivers start fearing for their jobs?

Times are changing quite quickly, with technological advancement getting more aggressive by the day. And with Google's self-driving cars driving down the street, car-for-hire company Uber is starting to launch their driverless fleet, ready for hire, in Pittsburgh this month. Uber's official statement reads:

Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved.

Uber's Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver's seat for the time being, consists of specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Volvo Cars has so far delivered a handful of vehicles out of a total of 100 due by the end of the year. The two companies signed a pact earlier this year to spend $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021.

As of now, Uber is launching these self-driving Volvo cars, which are still co-piloted by Uber drivers. According to a new report by Bloomberg, Uber is also acquiring Otto, a company that has been focused on developing self-driving technology that can be fitted on already existing cars. This means that with the acquisition of Otto in the books for Uber, Uber may be looking to fit regular cars with self-driving technology in the near future, too.It's clear that the prices of on-demand rides will drastically drop once Uber completely implements self-driving technology across its vehicles, since the company and the user, technically, will not have to pay anymore for the driver. This, however, raised several concerns among Uber drivers. Will Uber finally get rid of Uber drivers since their cars can basically function without them?

Uber is adapting to the times with the launch of their self-drive fleet
Uber is adapting to the times with the launch of their self-drive fleet (photo by iStock)

As of now, state law requires a licensed driver to be seated behind the wheel of any vehicle, autonomous or not. So this means Uber cannot get rid of their drivers just yet. But with technology fast developing, how soon will state law finally adapt?

The Guardian talked to 41-year-old Uber driver Rob Judge regarding the concern that Uber drivers might be rendered useless due to the change in Uber's approach to its services and Ingram notes:

It feels like we're just rentals. We're kind of like placeholders until the technology comes out.

For me personally, this isn't a long term stop. But for a lot of other people that I've connected with, this is their only means.

It has the potential for that human interaction to go away, and that's the best part of the whole experience.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick tells Business Insider in an interview, however, that Uber drivers do not have to fear that the company is trying to get rid of their drivers. In fact, Uber is looking to even increase their workforce:
If you're talking about a city like San Francisco or the Bay Area generally, we have, like, 30,000 active drivers. We are going to go from 30,000 to, let's say, hypothetically, a million cars, right? But when you go to a million cars, you're still going to need a human-driven parallel, or hybrid. And the reason why is because there are just places that autonomous cars are just not going to be able to go or conditions they're not going to be able to handle. And even though it is going to be a smaller percentage of the whole, I can imagine 50,000 to 100,000 drivers, human drivers, alongside a million-car network.

So I don't think the number of human drivers will go down anytime soon. In fact, I think in an autonomous world, it goes up. In absolute figures.

With plenty of people wanting to get around the city without the hassle of driving, parking, and dealing with the traffic, Uber is gaining steady footing in many countries across the globe. Uber's move to deploy their autonomous cars is only the first step for the company and the industry to grow.
[Featured image via iStock]