The Robotaxis are Coming – Soon

Last week, I presented at the Internet of Insurance Conference in Austin and received my usual reception: a majority not willing to even start to think about how the insurance industry is about to be up-ended.  However, also usual, a few people (from major insurance carriers), whose jobs specifically focusing on AVs and insurance, came up to agree with me enthusiastically at the end of the talk and set up times to discuss further.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what I said:

  • Yes cars are getting safer, and the new ADAS systems are going to make them 40-90% safer.
  • Yes its going to take at least a decade for this to filter throughout all the vehicles in the United States (as everyone needs to buy a new car to get the ADAS, and the average life of a car on the road right now is 11.6 years now).

BUT! there are two huge potential disruptors that could really accelerate the time line! and they are:

Basically, connected technology could be used to retrofit existing vehicles and cut down on wrecks through warnings to drivers, but the rest of this post is about the second potential disruptor: robotaxis.

Uber, Lyft, RideAustin – the concept of robotaxis is pretty well known at this point.  One vehicle drives throughout town picking up and dropping off passengers for direct trips.  With enough data, and enough vehicles, this model can result in pretty low wait times and pretty great service.  For instance, an MIT study claimed that with just 3000 ridesharing cars, every taxi in New York could be replaced.

Currently our robotaxis are not robotic at all – they have a human driver, but with Autonomous systems being pursed by Uber, Lyft, GM and everyone else – it seems obvious that the need for these human drivers is something that will be eliminated.  And as nerds like me tinker in labs everywhere, the time until this elimination date is growing shorter every day

I recently realized that I’ve been in this business for 2 years now – which means everything I said was 5-10 years away when I started 2 years ago should now be 3-8 years away.  Robotaxis are one of those things! And I was thrilled when, after having an animated conversation with a coworker on Friday about how the timeline is shortening, UBS published a research note that completely agreed.  That will be a fun email to write to show her who is taking my side!

So the point is: these things are getting closer, quickly.  I think GM gives us the best example of why exactly, but that’s material for another post.

until soon,

James