The fact of eliminating the need for a human chauffeur, which represents a significant part of the operating costs of that type of services, could make it a very affordable solution for the customers and accelerate the spreading of Transportation-as-a-Service (TaaS) solutions as opposed to individual car ownership. However, it raises the issue of job destruction.
Several studies highlighted that robo-taxis operated in an AMoD service could be one of the most rapidly adopted applications of autonomous cars at scale and a major mobility solution in the near future, especially in urban areas, providing the majority of vehicle miles in the United States within a decade of their first introduction. Moreover, they could have a very positive impact on road safety, traffic congestion and parking. Concerning pollution and consumption of energy and other resources, robo-taxis could lead to significant improvement since these services will most probably use electric cars and for most of the rides, less vehicle size and range is necessary compared to usual, individually owned vehicles. The expectable reduction of the number of vehicles means less embodied energy but energy consumption for redistribution of empty vehicles must be taken into account.
First operational tests
Several companies are testing robo-taxi services, especially in Asia and in the United-States. In most tests, there are human chauffeurs or "safety drivers" in these test cars to take control back in case of emergency.
In August 2016, MIT spinoff NuTonomy was the first company to make robo-taxis available to the public, starting to offer rides with a fleet of 6 modified Renault Zoes and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs in a limited area in Singapore. NuTonomy later signed three significant partnerships to develop its robo-taxi service: with Grab, Uber’s rival in Southeast Asia, with Groupe PSA, which is supposed to provide the company with Peugeot 3008 SUVs and the last one with Lyft to launch a robo-taxi service in Boston.
In September 2016, Uber started allowing a select group of users in Pittsburgh to order robo-taxis from a fleet of 14 modified Ford Fusions. The test extended to San Francisco with modified Volvo XC90s before being relocated to Tempe, Arizona in February 2017. In March 2017, one of Uber’s robo-taxis crashed in self-driving mode in Arizona, which led the company to suspend its tests before resuming them a few days later.
In early 2017, Waymo, the Google self-driving car project which became an independent company in 2016, started a large public robo-taxi test in Phoenix using 100 and then 500 more Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles as part of a partnership between the two companies. Waymo also signed a deal with Lyft to collaborate on self-driving cars in May 2017. In November 2017, Waymo revealed it had begun to operate some of its automated vehicles in Arizona without a safety driver behind the wheel.
In August 2017, Cruise Automation, a self-driving startup acquired by General Motors in 2016, launched the beta version of a robo-taxi service for its employees in San Francisco using a fleet of 46 Chevrolet Bolt EVs.
Many automakers have announced their plans to develop robo-taxis before 2025 and specific partnerships have been signed between automakers, technology providers and service operators. Most significant disclosed information include:
- Japan’s plan to have an operational robo-taxi service running for the 2020 Olympic Games thanks to the company Robot Taxi, a joint venture between DeNA and ZMP;
- The startup Zoox announcing in 2015 its ambition to build a robo-taxi from scratch;
- Delphi being selected in 2016 by the Singapore Land Transport Authority to run robo-taxi tests that are yet to be launched;
- Daimler AG teaming up with Bosch in 2017 to develop the software for a robo-taxi service by 2025;
- The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance partnering with Transdev and DeNA to develop robo-taxi services within 10 years from 2017;
- Volkswagen releasing during the 2017 Geneva Motor Show its autonomous concept car Sedric, which could be used as a robo-taxi;
- General Motors and Lyft partnering to deploy a large robo-taxi test fleet in 2018 (following a $500 million investment made by General Motors in Lyft in 2016);
- Ford Motor's plan to develop a robo-taxi by 2021 thanks to several partnerships;
- Daimler AG partnering with Uber in 2017 to operate a fleet of autonomous Mercedes cars on Uber's network;
- BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles partnering with Intel and Mobileye to develop robo-taxis by 2021;
- Honda releasing in 2017 an autonomous concept car, NeuV, that aims at being a personal robo-taxi;
- Baidu partnering with Nvidia to develop autonomous cars and robo-taxis;
- The United Arab Emirates buying 200 autonomous Teslas to launch a robo-taxi service in Dubai by 2020;
- Ford Motor investing $1 billion in the startup Argo AI to develop autonomous cars and robo-taxis;
- Voyage, a spin-out of Udacity’s self-driving car nanodegree program launched in 2017, aiming at creating its own robo-taxi service using retrofitted mass-production cars;
- Lyft partnering with the startup Drive.ai in 2017 to launch a pilot robo-taxi service in San Francisco Bay Area in the coming years;
- Lyft and Ford partnering in 2017 to add Ford's self-driving cars to Lyft's ride-hailing network;
- Lyft’s cars ownership will be fully transferred to company be end of 2025 and 25.9% of the household population
- Delphi buying the startup NuTonomy for $400 million in 2017;
- Parsons Corporation announcing a partnership with automated mobility operating system company Renovo.auto to deploy and scale AMoD services;
- The French startup Navya revealing, in 2017, its robo-taxi, the Autonom Cab, that will first be tested through a partnership with Keolis and RAC and then sold to other companies from Q3 2018;
- Google leading a $1 billion investment in 2017 in Lyft which could support Waymo's robotaxi strategy;
- Aptiv and Lyft testing robo-taxis during the 2018 Las Vegas CES;
- Volkswagen and Hyundai announcing, during the 2018 Las Vegas CES, a partnership with the startup Aurora, founded by one of the co-founders of Google's self-driving cars project, to develop vehicles for Moia, Volkswagen's ride-hailing network;
- Didi Chuxing partnering with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance and other automakers to explore the future launch of robotaxi services in China.
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