When Uber began testing driverless cars in several cities (and battled with California over its right to do so without a permit) last year, select passengers who wanted to try the experience weren’t the only passengers in the car. That’s because Uber is conducting research and has operators in the vehicles as it tests them in real life scenarios.
As Uber engineers test the automation, several things are proving to be troublesome for the artificial intelligence to interpret. First and foremost, the unpredictability of human drivers makes it challenging for the AI to compensate. For example, crossing over into the left lane to make a right-hand turn is a scenario that does not compute for the software.
Another quandary is bridges, so the company chose Pittsburgh specifically because of its many bridges, as a way to iron those bugs out. Bridges are difficult for driverless cars to handle, said Uber’s engineering director Raffi Krikorian, because they lack environmental cues that streets have, namely buildings. According to Business Insider, Krikorian said Pittsburgh was the “double black diamond of driving” and he believes conducting research in that city will help the research advance quickly.
Weather is also proving a challenge because snow, for example, obscures lane markings, making navigation tricky. Uber is also finding other challenges from nature during its tests, such as trees. The cars rely on high-definition maps with landmarks to navigate. In Pittsburgh, the images on those maps were taken in the winter when there were no leaves on the trees, so the car can’t determine what the new objects on its route are.
As Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing services continue to grow, it stands to reason that the emergence of these services would negatively affect the rental car industry.
But it turns out it’s not as cut and dried as it may appear.
According to car rental industry leaders, the need that rental cars fill for the public is not the same as the one being met by Uber and Lyft. In fact, according to USA Today, Avis Budget Group reported a three percent increase in revenues over the first three quarters of 2016 and Enterprise Holdings saw a 10 percent increase in its airport car rental revenue in 2015.
So, no real disruption here.
The reason for these upward trends is that rental cars and Uber are not an apples-to-apples comparison. According to Neil Abrams, a consultant in the car rental industry, “Typically, auto rental is lumped into the general category of ground transportation, including taxi and livery services. However, whereas taxi and livery are of shorter duration and mileage, the rental customer normally has a different requirement which demands more time and distance.”
With the steadily increasing popularity of Uber and Lyft, it seems ride sharing is becoming a popular mode of transportation for business travel. If you rely on it regularly, what are the best ways to save money? We’ve done some research and here’s what we found:
Booking in advance allows you to secure a ride when you need it, instead of waiting when you’d really rather be on your way. You’ll save money by scheduling your ride when you know it’s not rush hour. If you use Lyft, scheduling locks in your fare; Uber doesn’t offer that feature.
Search online for coupons. Both companies are competing for customers, so do a little poking around on either company’s official site or at sites like Groupon. Uber offers free rides for those who refer a friend who downloads the app, so if you’re traveling with a friend, have him or her download the app with your referral link, and you can both get a free ride to wherever you’re going.
Avoid traveling during surges. Fares are adjusted automatically, based on demand. For example, prices soar after events because of the demand for drivers, so if you can wait, the cost will drop. Don’t think you’ll get the average fare for a trip you’ve taken before if you’re among the throngs waiting for a ride.
The transportation you use once you arrive at your destination, whether traveling from the airport to your hotel or from the commuter train to your business meeting, can be a big part of your overall travel experience.
Besides impacting your overall feeling about the trip, it can be expensive, depending on what you use. While limos or taxis used to be the predominant method, the popularity of Uber and its competitor Lyft have changed the conversation about what mode of transport is not only most pleasant and efficient, but most cost effective.
To that end, GM and Lyft are betting that utilizing driverless cars will create an even less expensive option for users. Conde Nast Traveler reports the two companies have combined forces, and GM has purchased driverless tech company Cruise Automation, with an eye on capturing that emerging market.