Uber is working with Volvo to develop self-driving features on Volvo's XC90 in order to someday allow customers to hail autonomous rides via the Uber app.
courtesy uber
By Alex Fitzpatrick
August 18, 2016

Dozens of autonomous Uber vehicles are about to be roaming the streets of Pittsburg, but the company’s chief executive says its human drivers have nothing to worry about.

“I don’t think the number of human drivers will go down anytime soon,” Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told Business Insider. “In fact, I think in an autonomous world, it goes up.”

Many observers argue that autonomous cars pose a threat to professional drivers, who seemingly stand to be outmoded by the technology. Kalanick, however, claims that such vehicles will still require human labor for two reasons. First, they aren’t great at handling certain road conditions, like bad whether or countryside driving. Until the robot cars master those situations, human drivers will be necessary. Second, those robot cars still require people to maintain them. (For now, anyway.)

Here’s Kalanick’s full quote:

Business Insider: How do you keep Uber’s driver partners excited about working for Uber when today’s announcement is that you’re one step closer to replacing them? I believe your engineering director said you’re trying to wean riders off having drivers.

Kalanick: The first part is that the timescale is pretty long. We’ve got income opportunities today and we got ways of serving the city today. That’s part 1.

Part 2 is that if you’re talking about a city like San Francisco or the Bay Area generally, we have like 30,000 active drivers. We are going to go from 30,000 to, let’s say, hypothetically, a million cars, right? But when you go to a million cars you’re still going to need a human-driven parallel, or hybrid. And the reason why is because there are just places that autonomous cars are just not going to be able to go or conditions they’re not going to be able to handle. And even though it is going to be a smaller percentage of the whole, I can imagine 50,000 to 100,000 drivers, human drivers, alongside a million car network.

I can imagine 50,000 to 100,000 drivers, human drivers, alongside a million car network.

So I don’t think the number of human drivers will go down anytime soon.

In fact, I think in an autonomous world, it goes up. In absolute figures. Of course, in percentage it’s down. But then you also think, what about the tens of thousands of jobs that are necessary to maintain that fleet?

That said, Kalanick has made no secret of his desire to replace Uber’s human drivers. Those drivers, after all, are not full employees, but rather independent contractors — contractors who often agitate for better pay and other rights, creating legal headaches for the company. His life might be simpler without them. Uber’s drivers will likely be fine in the short term, but those planning on a longtime driving career would be wise to consider alternate routes.

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