Driverless Taxis Are Already Economically Feasible

Although Google has a ways to go before driverless taxis are technically viable in most cities, according to a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Jeffery Greenblatt and Samveg Saxena, the economics are already there:

“In New York City in 2005, only 24 percent of taxi fares went toward vehicle costs, with 57 percent going to drivers … driver income constitutes $97,600 per year, which could more than cover the incremental cost of autonomous vehicle technology [estimated at $150,000]. Even using current costs, if financed using identical model assumptions for vehicle capital, this would amount to $36,500 per year, 37 percent of New York City taxi driver income and 21 percent of total taxi fares. Therefore, autonomous taxis could replace current taxis at current autonomous vehicle costs and possibly even lower fares, providing an important early market niche.”

Economics isn’t destiny; the folks who own and work for the taxi industry are not going down without a fight, and as they have demonstrated in the past, they have plenty of political muscle in most big cities. But at this point taxi drivers are living on borrowed time.

How to Stop the Terminator:  Push Him Over

A useful reality check on how primitive today’s robots are. According to Popular Science’s Erik Sofge, the massive DARPA Robotics Challenge last month was a bust:

 the robot that racked up the most points, in the least amount of time, took nearly 45 minutes to complete a series of eight tasks that my kindergarten-age daughter could probably accomplish in 10 minutes.

And unlike toddlers, they couldn’t handle a spill:

Nearly every team whose machine tumbled simply ate the 10 minute time penalty. Some did so multiple times, implying a scenario where responders bring an entire squad of identical, blundering bots to a disaster, knowing full well that they’re liable to faceplant while facing such harrowing obstacles as a door handle, or a handful of stairs….

When robots hit the ground at the DRC, which was constantly, they didn’t get up. They either lay there like corpses, or continued whatever movement they were engaged in before the seemingly inevitable loss of balance. 

In other words, today the best way to stop a robot from taking your job is to knock it on its ass.