Google set to beat Uber with driverless taxi launch

2018-11-17 16:16:40

OPINION: It looks like Google will win the race to launch the first self-driving taxi service.

Waymo, formally known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, is set to launch the autonomous cab service in the US early next month.

These driverless taxis will only initially be available to "dozens or hundreds of authorised riders in the suburbs around Phoenix, covering about 100 square miles".

"What's Waymo?" Good question. Let me get this out of the way early because it's potentially confusing.

Bear with me here. In 2015, Google went through a corporate restructure to become Alphabet. A brand new multinational conglomerate of which the search engine giant, Google, became a direct subsidiary.

READ MORE: * No mouse holds back new iPad * Google ignores New Zealand * China takes a bite out of Apple's dominance

Well... Waymo is another subsidiary of Alphabet. It's the conglomerate's self-driving taxi company.

And this week's news is a massive win for Alphabet/Google.

It's been working on the technology for nearly a decade. During that time the company has clocked up over 10 million test miles - with over 5 million of these miles recorded in 2018 alone.

Waymo has yet to confirm the vehicle it will use to debut the new service, but it is expected to continue with its fleet of modified Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans.

The autonomous taxi fares are also unconfirmed. However, during the test stages of the service, prices were deliberately set to be competitive with Uber/Lyft and cheaper than a standard taxi.

Which is bizarre. The competitive edge driverless cars have on chauffeur-driven cars is that they don't have to pay the driver a salary. Which raises the question why anyone would risk breaking the status quo to ride in a driverless car? I fully expect Waymo to undercut Uber and Lyft when it officially launches next month

Waymo's next immediate goal is to roll out the service to more cities around the US, with Silicone Valley among several other cities next on its list.


Uber had its own press announcement this week. It wasn't anything to do with self-driving taxis, though.

Instead, new chief financial officer Nelson Chai reported that the company had continued to lose money in Q3. Not exactly the ideal response to Google, sorry, Alphabet's autonomous fanfare.

Uber's net losses are now US$939m ($1.375b), which represents a 32 percent increase of debt from quarter to quarter.

The good news, amazingly, is that the increased debt was totally planned by Uber. In a company statement, Chai said: "We are investing in future growth across our platform, including in food, freight, electric bikes and scooters".

Isolating the investment in new areas, Uber's Q3 performance was really strong.

Revenue was up five percent to US$2.95 billion - a 38 per cent increase year on year. And the total number of bookings, for the quarter, were also up by 6 per cent year-on-year.

Uber's strong revenue performance in established markets comes at a good time for the company, as its set to go public in 2019.


Moving away from driverless cars and an industry that makes sense, to one I've always struggled with. Wearables.

In my mind, wearable technology hasn't fulfilled its promise to be "the next big thing". Because of three reasons. 1. They all look terrible. 2. They're a nightmare to use and don't solve real problems. 3. They really do look terrible.

But this week, I've seen one that has genuine potential. And doesn't look that bad. Amazingly - or maybe not - it's not made by a multi-billion dollar tech giant either.

L'Oréal's My Skin Track UV is about the size of a button and is designed to be clipped on to your clothes, where it will passively monitor UV, pollen and pollution levels.

What makes this wearable different from the rest of the industry is that it solves a problem that actually exists. I'm still yet to witness a situation where a smartwatch has proven useful.

And as an Englishman in New Zealand, I can tell you that the Kiwi sun has got the better of me on more than one occasion.

A device that monitors UV strength solves a very real problem. Add in the ability for phone notifications when wearers reach dangerous levels of exposure and you have a life-saving product. One that would have literally saved my skin on multiple occasions.

My Skin Track UV is available to buy from both the L'Oréal and Apple Website where it retails for US$59.95. The device works with both iOS and Android devices.

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