Waymo announced today that they will, as promised, expand their service in the Phoenix suburbs to downtown, accepting applicants for an early rider program. In March they opened service in San Francisco after testing there for a long time. Cruise, GM’s self-driving project, has also expanded their service area to San Francisco last week to cover much more of the city – but not the city center and only at night. Cruise’s applications for a ride-charging permit are pending and are expected to be granted by June.
In China, however, the action is even faster. In order to impress us, AutoX this week released a drone video of their depot where they have over 1,000 robotaxis servicing areas of Shenzhen, including human-free service on board in about 1/4 of their 1,000 territory square kilometers.
And WeRide posted its own video of a side project building robotic street sweepers, but that didn’t make just one or two for a pilot as you’d expect from American companies. even well capitalized. In Chinese “go big” style, they made a whole fleet.
Meanwhile, the two Baidu
Back in the United States, MobilEye (a unit of Intel
All this to say — it’s on. While these are still pilots, we’re starting to see the first glimpses of the “land rush” to come in the 2020s, where players will begin attempting to claim territory and work to create real active companies. We’re not there yet – none of these projects come close to making money, but they’re charging money to work out the details of what it will be and putting stakes in the ground of places of operation.
While we see competition in cities like San Francisco, Shenzhen, and Beijing which are the home territories of these companies, most of this land rush won’t be that competitive as players move to claim unchartered territory rather than taking on competitors. . Deploying a robotaxi fleet is very capital intensive, and while these are some of the best capitalized companies ever, it’s important even for them.
Businesses will mostly start in snow-free areas, though they will soon feel the call of New York, the world’s largest taxi market. While their goal isn’t simply to be a better or cheaper replacement for taxis and TNCs, it’s a good place to start – if you can do it anywhere, you can do it there, to reverse the Lyrics of the song. Teams will look for cities where they can do good business, but also where they can travel to the car replacement business where the real money is.
In Chandler, Waymo could create a shuttle service between its two service areas, which could allow it to replace the car of Chandler residents, who could commute mainly downtown and in their own area, although most of people want to go occasionally to the airport and some other major attractions. Phoenix is so spread out that it’s actually a tough city to replace a car in because a replacement car must have a service area that covers a large portion of the trips a customer makes in their car. It’s much easier in cities where there are already plenty of people who don’t own a car — just push more over the threshold by providing excellent robotaxi service.
Sweepers are interesting because it’s one of those side markets that can get to market pretty quickly. Some of the earliest commercial deployments were in places like warehouses and mines, or on sidewalks with delivery robots. These have solved direct business issues and could take the simple approach of stopping if they run into a problem. Street sweeping is something that should be done regularly, but vehicles do not drive through traffic. They deliberately go much slower and can stop and go around obstacles when they need to. Since you can use such vehicles 24/7, the savings from removing drivers is much more obvious and everyone appreciates cleaner streets. While vehicles are probably expensive today (and drivers for them cheap in China), this is something that could be sold to almost any city, especially in places where drivers are expensive.
The vehicle is quite large and does not yet take advantage of the ability to create very different vehicle shapes when a driver is not involved. This will undoubtedly come in the future.