John Lynch

Autonomous on-demand networks - you looking at me?

The picture of the snake eating its own tail sprang to mind when talking to a taxi driver today. I was using Lyft a ride-hailing services, to get to work. Jimmy our Taxi driver (I was sharing with a stranger), had his mobile phone front and center and every time we stopped i noticed he as flitting between, Waze (planning the best route) then over to Uber and back to Lyft (planning his next pickup)

I asked for his thoughts on Uber vs. Lift. He said he simply didn't care, just wanted the best deal for him, so he used their own technology against them to get it. He said "Uber take more money (25%) but still have more users. Lyft take 5% less and have special volume offers for me. But lets see what happens when Juno comes, they are offering 10% and a free phone' so i can have two screens going at once". Jimmy rambled on about how yellow cabs were dead and that the future belonged to him.

But does it? 

Yes the future of mobility will definitely involve ride-hailing services. Young adults, burdened by crippling student debt and a recession that won’t go away, are buying fewer cars. Also many are in or migrating to cities, where car ownership is unnecessary with good public transport.

But I am afraid that Jimmy’s future is a little less rosy. To kick off 2016, his buddies at Lyft announced that it had closed at a $5.5 billion post-money valuation, with $500 million coming from one key source: General Motors. Its understood that Lyft and GM are partnering to create a fleet of self-driving cars that will work on the Lyft platform and without Jommy. 

How long that will take is unclear but this is hot on the heals of the Ford, Google non-exclusive deal which was signed in December 2015, where those two are also collaborating on self-driving cars. Google co-founder Sergey Brin said the company was looking for auto manufacturing partners that would use the company’s self-driving system  and get autonomous driving to market faster. 

Uber (of which Google owns 6% to 7%) has also established its own research center in Pittsburg to develop mapping and self driving technology. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has even stated that the ultimate goal is to replace human drivers like Jimmy with driverless robotic vehicles. No commission to pay and another seat to potentially make money off, when the Ride Share option becomes the norm. 

Going in alone for now from the manufacturing side, we have BMW with their ReachNow and, Daimler with Car2go, taking on Avis's with their Zipcar, all accumulating data realating to the millions of miles taken in their on demand car hiring services. Again a model that would be totally transformed with autonomous cars.  

So this is the future brave new world of “autonomous on-demand networks” and ALL the technology to drive it is already sitting in front of Jimmy. Jimmy is oblivious to the fact that he is contributing to his own downfall by generating the data that will ultimately inform platforms like Uber and Lyft on how to do without him. Invaluable data on how people want to move around cities and how you can ride share efficiently.  

To quote William Gibson, The future is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed. Automated cars are ready to go, with Nissan, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz promising advanced vehicles for customer sales by 2020. Encumbant business models and margins, consumer fear and transport laws are the only obstacles. Sixteen US states have already introduced legislation related to autonomous vehicles with much more surely to come. Combined with congested cities screaming for a better solution on how to move people about, a perfect storm is upon us, that will sadly blow Jimmy out of his seat (not to mention bus drivers, truckdrivers, planes, trains etc) and out of business.  


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John Lynch Digital Ministry John Lynch
Company: Digital Ministry
Position: Editor
Involved in the digital media and Marketing industry for many years, through working at the Economist Group (uk), Universal McCanns, Zivo, emitch, OneDigital, IBM (client side), Agency.com & now TBWA NY Now in Bath, UK working as a consultant

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