Uber Takes the Wheel

By Maya Hood

Will Uber’s robot cars be the end of human drivers? Ride-sharing companies, like Uber, continuously take steps towards fully-autonomous, driverless vehicles. It seems technology will change the future of mobility.

Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick, launched their first self-driving car in Pittsburgh on Sept. 14, 2016, his goal is to replace Uber’s human drivers with robot drivers. This goal will fundamentally change the driving experience.

When it comes to autonomous cars, the transportation system must accommodate both humans and machines, so its benefits are only as good as its technology, and people’s willingness to use it.

“There are a lot of people that are very both cautious and suspicious about it,” said professor Ryan Falcioni, a philosophy professor at Chaffey College, “Some latent fears about technology and some anxiety about technology plays out when it comes to these sorts of applications because people’s fears about it backfiring or misfiring becomes amplified.”

There are potential effects when it comes to the development of the driverless car age like unemployment for drivers, the harm it has on human relations, and the safeness of autonomous automobiles.

Some people argue that self-driving cars pose a threat to professional drivers, however, human drivers are necessary for some things like adverse weather and traffic conditions.

“I think it’s just stupid,” said Uber driver Tonette Kirkland. She believes driverless cars are only beneficial depending on the location because people drive differently when it comes to certain areas. “By the time people are comfortable with self-driving cars, I’ll be dead.”

When it comes to Uber, the majority of the ride goes to the driver's salary, and Uber gets 20% of the fare. If an Uber ride is expensive, it's because one is paying for the person driving the car, therefore; the cost becomes cheaper when drivers are replaced with robots.

Nonetheless, she doesn’t think drivers will suffer from unemployment because any type of technology creates different types of opportunities, people just have to be able to adapt to it. However, some Uber drivers are not at all concerned, because the job is temporary for them.

“There’s going to be some acceptance, but there’s going to be a lot of people who aren’t going to want to jump on board,” said Walter G, another Uber driver. He is pessimistic about the idea of autonomous cars. "I've taken Uber as a passenger, and if a driverless car pulled up, I can't imagine myself taking Uber."

With technological advances, the social values between the driver and the passenger might suffer. There were many students who chose ride-sharing services as opposed to self-driving cars because they liked the human interaction.

“I like it because you meet nice people, and I like talking to people,” said Noah Cortez, “It would be boring."

Some students said they are curious when it comes to autonomous cars because it’s new to them, but once it becomes the norm they would be open to it. “I think it’s so new, and because I’ve never seen it, I might be a little hesitant at first until it became more popular,” said Melissa Lacabanne, a student at Chaffey.

The general consensus is that Uber's robot car future will lead to safer roads.

However, people against this perspective would question the safety of self-driving vehicles, when Joshua Brown was killed driving a Tesla Model S on autopilot mode on May 7, making it the first fatality accident involving a self-driving car.

"Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert," Tesla stated.

At some point, in the years to come, technology will become more advanced.

According to the U.S Department of Transportation, drivers were at fault at an estimate of 94% car crashes. If the human error is taken out of the driving equation, it's easy to see how it could lead to ultimately safer roads.

“I think it’s just scary because robots are taking over the world,” said Arlene Blunt, a Chaffey student.