Uber made a huge step in making its ride-sharing service more appealing to commuters after launching its first fleet of self-driving cars on the streets of Pittsburgh on Sept. 14.
However, while the company sees a bright future in its robot vehicles, its ride-sharing drivers can't help but feel fearful that the new service could very well spell the end of their jobs.
Uber has had its eye set on putting driverless cars on roads as early as 2014. In an interview during the Code Conference that year, the company's co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick said robot cars will inevitably replace human-driven rides.
He explained that the reason why Uber's service tends to be pricey is because commuters have to pay not only for the actual ride itself but also for the driver.
If there are no more drivers, Kalanick said the ride would be safer, cheaper and more environmentally friendly as well.
When asked how he would explain Uber's planned change to its driver partners, who will might lose their employment somewhere down the line, Kalanick gave a candid answer.
"Look, this is the way the world is going," the Uber CEO said. "The world isn't always great."
Kalanick followed up his statements by telling the public that Uber's planned transition to driverless vehicles could take a few decades to finish. However, Wednesday's launch could mean that the company is a lot closer to realizing its goal than what many initially thought.
Despite this, Uber pointed out that it will still need the help of human drivers in running its ride-sharing service, albeit in a much lesser role.
The company said its self-driving Uber cars will have safety drivers in the front seat to help the vehicles navigate during certain conditions such as bad weather.
Uber added that it envisions the new service as a combination of robot cars and human-driven vehicles, which would allow the company to address the limitations of self-driving software as well as the growing demand for people-powered transport.
Self-Driving Ubers vs Human Drivers
Uber's new driverless cars make use of cameras and sensors placed in different parts of the vehicles to help navigate them on the road. While the cars still require a safety driver present during trips, their onboard software pretty much does all the driving.
Uber has launched four Ford Fusions retrofitted with the self-driving program so far as part of its trial in Pittsburgh, but it has 100 Volvo XC90s already lined up to add to its driverless vehicles.
This marks the first time Uber has purchased vehicles of its own. Before starting its self-driving car project, the company operated its business by hiring drivers who would use their vehicles to provide ride-sharing services to commuters.
By entering a partnership with private car owners, Uber was able to avoid having to pay employee benefits for its drivers and other expenses such as car maintenance and insurance.
Drivers get to keep 65 to 80 percent of each fare they make, while Uber gets to have the rest of the earnings. However, if its driverless cars prove to be a success, the company will be able to keep close to 100 percent of each fare.
Trips on self-driving Ubers are also expected to be shorter compared to human-driven rides. This is because the robot cars will only stop if they need to refuel or recharge.