Acclaimed futurist and Twitter paradox Elon Musk announced a plan to start an autonomous taxi service during a 2020 first quarter earnings call, according to Inverse. It’s a move that’s been in the works since Tesla started including self-driving technology in all new vehicles in 2016.
The idea goes like this: Using an app, Tesla owners will be able to set certain times during the day when their car will be available for use as a robotic Uber. Projections by ARK Invest point to a possible $10,000 annual passive income for drivers who opt in and make their vehicle available for an hour and a half each day, helping to offset the cost of an electric car which remains outside of many consumers’ budgets.
The proposal has a lot of potential: financially, it would mean a fleet of cabs running without payroll. It would also mean a working rideshare system that wouldn’t have to worry about shady drivers. The question is, how long would it take to implement, and is driverless technology ready to roll out on a large scale?
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It’ll take time. In his outline of the proposal, Musk described a three step process.
Step one: Tesla’s self-driving technology needs to finish cooking. Fully automated cars capable of curb to curb service are expected by the end of 2020, though Musk pointed out that there would be a testing period during which a human would need to oversee all autonomous rides.
Step two would be a practical test of the technology in ride-app form, again with a person riding shotgun to avoid any unfortunate SkyNetting that might occur. Musk said on the call that his hope was to begin this process in the first half of 2021.
As in all robot conquests, the final step would be removing the human element completely, allowing the cars to drive themselves. This part is tricky — regulations on the subject of self-driving cars will unquestionably be different depending on your neck of the woods. It would also, by Musk’s own predictions, require six billion miles of autonomous driving on record, and Tesla is only halfway there right now. A hard start date isn’t easy to define, since, as Elon put it and folks hoping for a working Hyperloop have noted, ‘punctuality is not (Musk’s) strong suit.”