Uber Begins Transition To Driverless Cars Through Waymo Partnership In Phoenix

May 27, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

Uber has teamed up with artificial intelligence (AI) ridership service Waymo, indicating a transition away from the use of drivers whose income relies on the ride-hailing service.

On Tuesday, the commuter and delivery service giant announced that this transformational partnership would begin in Phoenix. Both Waymo and Uber were founded in 2009. 

Uber partnered with Waymo last summer for the commercial vehicles making up their freight transport fleet. Waymo’s vehicles are electric.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi predicted that driverless cars would be the new normal for travel.

“Uber provides access to a global and reliable marketplace across mobility, delivery, and freight,” said Khosrowshahi. “Fully autonomous driving is quickly becoming part of everyday life, and we’re excited to bring Waymo’s incredible technology to the Uber platform.”

Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana said the partnership would improve travel safety for ride-hailing customers.

We’re excited to offer another way for people to experience the enjoyable and life-saving benefits of full autonomy,” said Mawakana. “Uber has long been a leader in human-operated ridesharing, and the pairing of our pioneering technology and all-electric fleet with their customer network provides Waymo with an opportunity to reach even more people.”

While driverless cars have negated the possibility of human error, they have presented unique issues in terms of road safety. In a viral video last year, a Waymo vehicle stalled in a Chandler intersection, blocked three lanes of traffic, and attempted to escape company handlers. The AI technology driving the car became confused by construction cones closing off access to a turn lane it needed to use. At one point, the car began to back up into oncoming traffic.

The passenger behind the viral video also attested that he’d been stranded on multiple occasions by similar driverless cars.

Unaddressed in either companies’ press releases on their partnership was the profit boost that Uber stands to gain from eliminating its drivers from the equation. The elimination of drivers would recoup the 75 percent of the fare fee afforded to drivers. 

Uber gross bookings totaled $115 billion last year.

Uber and other similar companies, like Lyft, posed a unique challenge to the traditional ride-hailing and delivery services — namely, taxis. Uber upended the taxi industry, allowing individuals to offer their driving services on a flexible basis, with drivers generally supplementing their income rather than working endless hours to barely make ends meet, and giving riders more options for ride type at a cheaper cost. 

Less than a decade after its industry shakeup, it looks like Uber will shake things up again with its embrace of AI over human drivers.

Waymo rolled out its driverless vehicles in downtown Phoenix last August.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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