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The Almighty Buck Transportation Businesses Security Software News Technology

Uber Seeking To Buy Self-Driving Cars (reuters.com) 102

An anonymous reader writes from an article on Reuters: In order to save money from hiring drivers, ride-hailing service Uber has shown interest in placing a large order for self-driving cars, an auto industry source said on Friday. "They wanted autonomous cars," the source, who declined to be named, said. "It seemed like they were shopping around." Earlier on Friday, Germany's Manager Magazin reported that Uber had placed an order for at least 100,000 Mercedes S-Class cars, citing sources at both companies. [The top-flight limousine does not yet have fully autonomous driving functionality.] Another source familiar with the matter said no order had been placed with Mercedes-Benz. Diamler and Uber declined to comment. Auto industry executives are wary of doing deals with newcomers from the technology and software business who threaten to upend established business models based on manufacturing and selling cars. "We don't want to end up like Nokia's handset business, which was once hugely profitable... then disappeared," a second auto industry source said about doing a deal with Uber.
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Uber Seeking To Buy Self-Driving Cars

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  • It only makes sense. Uber can reduce the largest cost of taxi services by eliminating the temperamental drivers. This way, they can provide a consistent service that is the same everywhere.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The robots at Carls Jr never leave work. No need for these cars.

    • It only makes sense. Uber can reduce the largest cost of taxi services by eliminating the temperamental drivers. This way, they can provide a consistent service that is the same everywhere.

      And further note, the taxi companies could *also* do this and get the same benefit

      ...or they could litigate and complain to the government about unfair competition.

      • News flash for auto makers: If you refuse to deal with Uber et al, they'll just end run you and build their own car, powered by Google's self driving software. Do you really want that? Companies that see the writing on the wall early enough can lead the industry in it's new direction. Those who refuse to compete at that level will die... like Kodak.

        • powered by Google's self driving software.

          Powered by their own software:

          http://www.theverge.com/transp... [theverge.com]

          http://www.wsj.com/articles/is... [wsj.com]

        • Re:I saw this coming (Score:5, Interesting)

          by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @07:12PM (#51727865)

          It is a little more difficult build a successful commercial car than to stop the use of film, however.

          Yes, Kodak completely screwed up because film itself became a thing of the past with digital and they refused to give up their film business.

          However, making cars automated or even autonomous doesn't make cars obsolete. And car companies do a lot of things to get and keep their cars on the road.

          Partnering with a software company that will make use of their expertise and infrastructure to build the initial cars, could eventually lead to the software company wanting to cut costs by changing their "hardware" to some sort of Made in China manufacturer.

          How could that happen? If the software becomes more important than the car itself, car companies are out of business. And who needs 500 hp if they are all in electric, self-driving pods anyway? All they will care about is that they can play AAA games in the auto pod while they wait for it to get them to work.

          I think car companies are learning that they need to get into this business while they can still control the conversation about what cars *are*, and merely being the hardware maker is not going to let them do that all by itself. Software isn't tied to their platform unless they own the platform and the software. Note how Apple is able to make its money. Car companies want to be Apple, not Nokia.

           

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          News flash exactly why would the automakers bother with selling cars to Uber. Seriously auto executives would simply say, fuck Uber, we will make our own auto taxi service direct and keep those profits, let the morons at Uber make their own cars. Uber has a tiny limited window in the transportation market and it is doomed, expect it to go public ASAP, so the insiders can sell out and watch it go boom from some tax haven.

          • The same reason they aren't in the rental car business. It's not their core function and they know it.
          • Actually, I think you might be on to something... at least in the distant future... as more and more people eschew ownership, I could see a company eventually just saying "lets build a fleet of purpose built transports that we own and control, and provide ride sharing." However, I think it requires first the mass adoption of ride sharing, which is why I say "distant future."

        • quick hack on some Chinese fender-flappers will probably aim for baby strollers. death wish three ways. four, if you count idiot investors. you have been warned

        • Those who refuse to compete at that level will die... like Kodak.

          Kodak did NOT "refuse to compete". They tried hard to convert to digital. The problem was that they had little expertise, and no competitive advantage in digital. Basically, all they had was their brand, and that wasn't worth much. Even in hindsight, I don't see anything that Kodak could have done to save themselves. They were doomed.

          It is the same for the automakers. If SDCs cause large numbers of people to forego car ownership, and most of the "shared" cars are basic models (since taxis are not stat

          • A young engineer by the name of Steven Sasson created the first digital camera in 1975 while working for Kodak. It was a completely functional self contained prototype, with batteries, and a cassette recorder to store the images on, and a separate system to load and display the image onto a television screen. He demonstrated what he had made to executives at Kodak, several times. The executives could not imagine why anyone would want to view their images on a television screen, and they had a monopoly on th

            • Thanks for the backup. This is exactly what I was saying, and it's amazing that nobody in this entire thread gets it but you... You can either lead the change or follow it, but the change is happening... guaranteed!

              Wish I could give you mod points.

    • Who didn't see this coming? Did people honestly think their business plan was to hire random people to drive their own cars? Right now that's the cheapest way to collect data. A year ago they went in and poached Carnegie Mellon's Robotics department [wsj.com] (Those guys behind the Red Humvees in the DARPA autonomous vehicle project).

      Taking vacation in Florida I can't wait for a self driving future over the current crop of aging drivers. Grandma doesn't need to own, maintain or anything a car. She just uses the Amazo

      • Cars, how quaint.

        I want hyperloop

      • And let us not forget the texting morons, the gabbing imbeciles, the makeup artists, the doped up Cretans, the drunks, the wankers, the eaters, the video watchers. I cannot wait for autonomous cars. I like to drive, and pay attention, but it is getting crazy out there. Thirty thousand dead each year in the US. The cars are safer but the people are far more dangerous with all their distractions and bad habits.

        Volvo has a good practical road map to autonomous cars. And critically the company is willing t

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      But they're trying to place an order for a product that does not exist yet, and nobody's proven yet that they will be able to make that product any time soon.

      Or that the product will be suitable for Uber's intended use, legal to operate driverless, and not a dud....

  • Replacing drivers will displace workers. See here for the feedback on that: https://hardware.slashdot.org/... [slashdot.org]

  • There is currently no such thing as a 'self driving car', and there won't be for decades to come, and even if there is sooner than that, it'll still require, by law, a qualified driver behind the wheel at all times.
    • by zlives ( 2009072 )

      Uber also placed an order for 1,000 self driving air cars...

    • by ark1 ( 873448 )
      Google latest prototype already comes without wheel or pedals. Sure there will be conditions where machine is unable to perform up to standard but for majority of cases I believe we are only a few years from something available on the market. Assuming the technology is as safe or safer than humans, perhaps public transportation will be first to get automated as routes tend to be very predictable.
      • I'm curious. Can a self-driving car park to the nearest millimeter? Are there really going to be zero cases where a human needs to move the SDC "just a smidge"?
        • by xvan ( 2935999 )
          Parking is easier for a machine than your average person. Reacting fast to unexpected things is the problem.
      • by johanw ( 1001493 )

        Maybe in the US, where the streets are car-friendly and drivers usually behave very predictively. And there they still drive very slow. Now try that self-driving car in Paris, Rome or Manilla and see if it even dares moving when it calculates the chance of a crash.

    • That's just it.. so much investment on tech that has yet to show any signs of being practical in the real world. They're driving into buses at 2 MPH for crying out loud, IN PERFECT WEATHER.
    • There is currently no such thing as a 'self driving car', and there won't be for decades to come, and even if there is sooner than that, it'll still require, by law, a qualified driver behind the wheel at all times.

      There's already a self-driving tractor-trailer [cnn.com] in Nevada.

      • Says 'hey there's a big rig that's self-driving!'
        Story has pic with driver behind the wheel

        Apples and oranges, friend.

        In the forseeable future any car with an autopilot feature will require a qualified driver behind the full set of manual controls at all times. Believe it.

  • Uber's time is coming to and end as more and more cities and countries force Uber to comply with the same laws and regulations as taxis, which is what Uber is. These laws are not going away.

    Also, it will be a long time before self-driving cars will be commercially available, there are still many kinks to be worked out and questions about liability that will keep them off the road for general use, especially taxis.

    • I'm thinking it's about 50/50 that Uber will survive... however, the ride hailing idea is NEVER going to die. The desire for ride hailing companies to not pay employees, and instead invest in self driving tech is also not going anywhere. I think you put too much faith in "laws" which are in fact more like racketeering. The taxi laws are not in place to protect the taxi companies, they are in place to protect the customers and the general public. Once self driving tech is considered safer than human driv

      • The taxi laws are not in place to protect the taxi companies, they are in place to protect the customers

        Wishful, naive thinking. The fact that NYC taxi medallions reached a high of $1.1 million each is clear proof that taxi companies captured the regulatory authorities decades ago (to the obvious detriment of both customers and customers).

    • ... force Uber to comply with the same laws and regulations as taxis, which is what Uber is.

      I agree, and this announcement is significant because it signals that Uber is abandoning the claim that their drivers are just contractors. They are not only admitting that their drivers are employees but that they are also going to be providing the cars. This puts them in exactly the same status as taxis, except they're still trying to avoid the laws that cover taxi service.

      and questions about liability

      In this case, there would be no question as to the liability. Not only would the manufacturer be sued, so would Uber. There would be

      • We have a system of separate 'taxis' and 'mini-cabs'. Taxis tout for business on the street, clutter up railway stations and airports waiting for customers and are relatively expensive. Alternatively you can phone a mini-cab to come and collect you. Cheaper per mile - just can't tout for business - you have to book it via the office.

        Along comes Uber and confuses the distinction. You book the ride via the app - fulfilling the requirement to be a 'mini-cab' - but the Uber cars can be hovering waiting for a
    • I think it's sad that reactionary assholes down vote a comment that states the facts and not opinion, simply because they disagree with the facts.

      1. Uber is a taxi service.
      2. Uber declines to follow the rules of taxi services (right or wrong)
      3. Local municipalities are cracking down on Uber, as are several (and counting) countries.

      These statements are factual.

      I have used Uber and will again. But that does not mean I am blind to the contradictions in the Uber Group Think vs. Reality.

  • Each group of vehicles will need a home base, probably with a mechanic, fuel, and place to store most (if not all) of the vehicles in case of disaster i.e. a flood/storm/blizzard when all cars are ordered off the road.

    Right now, they have a ready made test market in Nevada (laws already passed), which they will most likely have to self-insure the vehicles. But they have the money to do it.

    • The thing is, maintaining a car that was driven by algorithm to be easy on the hardware is going to be much easier than maintaining a car that was driven by an emotional, fallible, sleepy, hungry, angry human. Also, fuel won't be that big of a deal since I predict most self driving cars will be electric. Finally, parking a car in a safe out-of-the-way place is a lot easier when your parking garage only needs 5' tall ceilings, cars can be placed 3" apart and you don't need to leave right of way space (assu

    • Not to mention having to program an annoying, intrusive AI "driver" in each car.

      "Did I pick you up at home?"

      "Um..."

      "Am I taking you home now?"

      "Well..."

      "Can I friend you on Facebook? Friend request sent."

      "Hey, I didn't-"

      "Can I follow you on Twitter? Following. I see you like cats."

  • Uber stated last July [computerworld.com] it was interested in buying every single autonomous car Tesla could build.
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @05:39PM (#51727297)

    I can't believe people don't see what's going to happen when all the unskilled work either disappears or pays so little that you have a permanent underclass of people. Driving a cab is pretty much a last-resort job for people who need to moonlight or can't get any other job. It's unrealistic to think that all these people have the intelligence or resources to train for a higher-level job. Look at all the factory workers who can't get anything better than a home health care aide job. I'd sure hate to be thrown out after 20 years on an assembly line to clean up after dementia patients.

    Don't be surprised when the "knowledge worker" jobs are gone too. I consider myself reasonably smart and a hard worker, but no job is immune to this. I also worry about a massive glut of middle-skilled people getting displaced. I work in IT services, and there are so many "customer account coordinators" and "relationship specialists" and "technical project enablers" who fit this mold. They're not deeply technical, most are ex-fraternity or sorority types from Big State University who partied their way through a business degree or maybe even an MBA, and they'll be absolutely screwed when big corporations get around to cutting them out too. The thing is this - those C students pay taxes, buy stuff with their salaries and have children. When the safety net of stable work is cut, no one is going to want to spend or procreate, and then we're really stuck.

    • by m00sh ( 2538182 )

      I can't believe people don't see what's going to happen when all the unskilled work either disappears or pays so little that you have a permanent underclass of people. Driving a cab is pretty much a last-resort job for people who need to moonlight or can't get any other job. It's unrealistic to think that all these people have the intelligence or resources to train for a higher-level job. Look at all the factory workers who can't get anything better than a home health care aide job. I'd sure hate to be thrown out after 20 years on an assembly line to clean up after dementia patients.

      Don't be surprised when the "knowledge worker" jobs are gone too. I consider myself reasonably smart and a hard worker, but no job is immune to this. I also worry about a massive glut of middle-skilled people getting displaced. I work in IT services, and there are so many "customer account coordinators" and "relationship specialists" and "technical project enablers" who fit this mold. They're not deeply technical, most are ex-fraternity or sorority types from Big State University who partied their way through a business degree or maybe even an MBA, and they'll be absolutely screwed when big corporations get around to cutting them out too. The thing is this - those C students pay taxes, buy stuff with their salaries and have children. When the safety net of stable work is cut, no one is going to want to spend or procreate, and then we're really stuck.

      Research has shown that we are really bad at predicting the future but compulsively do so anyways.

      Let the problem arrive first and then we can figure out what can be done.

      I can pontificate endlessly on how we can use the tens of millions new workers instead of driving around in circles all day. If they have the discipline to be inside a car all day and drive people around all day, I'm sure they can do a lot more interesting and useful things.

      • by SJ ( 13711 )

        Research has shown that we are really bad at predicting the future but compulsively do so anyways.

        I dunno, Kafka and Orwell seem to be pretty much on-the-money.

        • by m00sh ( 2538182 )

          Research has shown that we are really bad at predicting the future but compulsively do so anyways.

          I dunno, Kafka and Orwell seem to be pretty much on-the-money.

          Just because someone wins the lottery doesn't mean we should all go out and buy lottery tickets.

          Or maybe it does?

    • [...] When the safety net of stable work is cut, no one is going to want to spend or procreate, and then we're really stuck.

      Modern economics isn't a science, it's a jumble of overlapping theories and schools of thought.

      By popular economic theory there will be massive starvation and general collapse.

      There are different schools of thought which include a guaranteed minimum income, which would give people a life of leisure to pursue whatever they liked. As more and more automation took over, we could have a sci-fi utopian society where everyone's basic needs are met.

      That's a worthy goal. Carping about "this change will reduce jobs"

  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @05:53PM (#51727377) Homepage Journal

    Yesterday was St. Patricks. Do you have any idea how many people threw up in cabs last night?

    Ok, so let's go 10 years into the future and Uber actually has self-driving cars. And their Mercedes S-class picks up two drunk students. One barfs in the car on their ride home. They stumble out and go on their way.

    Then that same car gets routed to it's next pickup, a well to-do couple from a fine dining establishment. They open the door, and.......

    • I asked this question in a previous article and I was told that an Uber car would not only sense the vomit and drive to a car wash immediately to be cleaned in and out, but that the offender would be on video and sent the bill.
    • Yesterday was St. Patrick's. Do you have any idea how many people threw up in cabs last night?

      State the obvious. I've known cab drivers who have had people screw on their ride home from the bar -- right in the back seat. "Come on, I'm only human," he cries at them to no avail.

      Now take an Uber driver-less. Tape-over the cameras and have a good fuck on your way to the party. Won't the soccer-moms driving by with their kids in the SUV be mortified? (that she did the same back in college)

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @05:58PM (#51727423)

    "the source, who declined to be named"

    So ... "some guy said Uber wants to buy self driving cars instead of hiring drivers".

    (1) Uber does not hire drivers; Uber uses contractors

    (2) Uber is not a taxi company

    (3) If Uber owned the cars, self driving or not, they damn well *would* be a taxi company

    (4) Uber has no interest in *being* a taxi company, because that would cause them to fall under onerous regulations that the taxi companies have lobbied to put in place over the last century, as an anticompetitive measure to keep other taxi companies from coming into existence and competing against them.

    It's pretty obvious that about the stupidest thing Uber could possibly do is buy self-driving cars. If self-driving cars ever become a viable thing, then Uber will most likely *contract* with the owners of the self-driving cars, rather than owning the cars themselves, and that way they can remain a ride sharing service, rather than getting sucked into the morass that is the taxi industry.

    • an anticompetitive measure to keep other taxi companies from coming into existence and competing against them.

      Judging by the number of taxi companies, that has got to be the worst effort to be anticompetitive EVER. Complete fail there. Not to mention the fact that they are bound to be present in certain spots where people need them, give access to physically disabled, install expensive safety equipment and hold expensive insurance; all of which vastly raises the cost of operating in their business. By your measure the taxi industry must have the worst business strategists ever.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      If Uber's interest in self-driving vehicles is so tangential, why are they investing so heavily in them? http://www.wsj.com/articles/is-uber-a-friend-or-foe-of-carnegie-mellon-in-robotics-1433084582 [wsj.com]
    • by jcr ( 53032 )

      If the numbers work out, I could see buying a couple of autonomous cars myself and vending them to the public through Uber.

      -jcr

    • So Uber buys the self driving cars, but leases them out to Uber drivers who just sit in the driver's seat and 'monitor' the car's safe operation. Driver/lessees have to gas/charge/insure/maintain the cars while getting paid a nominal $17/hr, but then have to pay Uber $500/mo for the car payments. Net income is about $3.00/hr.
  • More shitty, abusive-of-human jobs, according to their detractors, about to b3 replaced by machines to take the risk.

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Friday March 18, 2016 @06:13PM (#51727531)

    "We don't want to end up like Nokia's handset business, which was once hugely profitable... then disappeared,"

    then don't partner with Microsoft because that is exactly what killed Nokia's handset business.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nokia made very good mobile telephones.

      And you're probably thinking, "see, people still buy mobile telephones, without Microsoft they'd be huge" but you'd be wrong

      People buy handheld computers. They're lousy as telephones, but it doesn't matter because they're rarely used as telephones. The Mac Pro makes a lousy telephone too, but people buy those too. We had to call the handheld computers "phones" to get people to buy one and understand why they needed a handheld computer. But go read a review of, say, the

  • Whatever technology is used it's would be a huge crash course that would most certainly remove the majority of the bugs and make the system more robust and secure city by city. Every inch of road would be mapped. The kinks could be worked out a lot faster than if they took the conservative route of slowly migrating driving from manual to auto.

    P.S. It would also mean that some gas stations would be contracted and need to have someone on staff for Full Service for these self driving cars. Or maybe provide a d

  • NASA Seeking To Buy Rocket for Mars Mission

    In light of the rarity of these things, today and in the foreseeable future, some expect disappointment. Like the self-driving car, the Mars Rocket is a figment of the imagination. There are models, there are concept prototypes, there are proposals but there is no such thing for sale.

    There is hope for the Rocket, but the massive infrastructure and legal wrangling and upset to powerful corporate interests will leave the Self-Driving Cars in limbo for a very long tim

  • Nokia didn't go out of business because of accepting large orders for handsets. They went belly-up because they were slow to react to innovation by their competition.

    -jcr

  • the death of humanity, if every company can replace everyone with robots & AI pretty soon nobody will have a job, humans are being obsoleted

    the Luddites are right, Ted Kaczynski was right about technology, i did not agree with Ted's methods but his philosophy is spot on, high tech will eventually destroy us if were not careful
  • And by "driving test" I mean the exact same test that humans do, by following the instructions of a human examiner who is talking to them.
  • So we are to believe a company that operates through contracters to avoid being classified as a taxi company has on the spur of the moment ordered somewhere between 5 and 10 billion dollars (that is assuming not top of the line and no premium for self driving) worth of S class Mercedes. smells like utter bullshit to me.
  • 100,000 Mercedes S-class?
    1. that's a $10 billion order.
    2. that's the entire S-class production for I'd guess a year.
    3. Almost nobody buys $100k S-class as taxis. That sort of outlay only makes sense if you can go without a driver completely. Given the state of automation of the current S, you still need a driver, and at that point you might as well spend $50k on an E-class (a common cab) instead.

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