Autonomous ridesharing isn’t a new concept, but many drivers assume that we’re still many years away from the idea becoming a feasible reality. That mindset has been reaffirmed by news of recent autonomous vehicle crashes, some of which have been fatal.
But the industry is moving forward at what seems to be an even faster pace. Autonomous ride-hailing services will be here faster than you think – as soon as this summer.
A California-based computer software company, Drive.ai, has plans to launch an autonomous ridesharing service in Texas. The pilot program will launch in July.
Sameep Tandon, the CEO and co-founder of the company, said their fleet of cars have been tested and are safe. And unlike other autonomous vehicles, theirs is colored orange to help avoid accidents.
Tandon says that painting the cars orange makes them easily recognizable, so other drivers know they are near a self-driving vehicle.
“When you see a school bus, you have a slightly different behavior when you drive around it,” he told CNBC.
Tandon holds a doctorate in computer science from Stanford University, and he served as a research assistant for deep learning and autonomous driving.
The company’s vehicles boast a number of safety features, including multiple cameras, radar, sensors and lidar. Thus far, the vehicles have been tested through simulator systems and in geo-fenced locations.
Drive.ai plans to launch the pilot program in Frisco, TX, just outside of Dallas, with Nissan NV cargo vans. But their goal is to expand over time.
The public is still concerned about the safety of self-driving vehicles, and rideshare drivers will still be in demand for many more years. But the future will be here faster than many drivers realize.
Right now, the more immediate threat to the industry is one that really isn’t surprising: drowsy driving.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) says sleepiness and fatigue are inherent safety risks of the ridesharing industry.
Circadian influences and sleep deprivation leave ridesharing drivers at risk of drowsy driving, according to AASM. Many ridesharing drivers take shifts after working a full-time job or plan to work during the evening hours.
Because rideshare drivers are considered independent contractors, they are not screened for medical problems that can reduce alertness.
The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that there are 328,000 crashes in the U.S. each year that involve drowsy drivers, including 6,400 that involve fatalities. Strom & Associates says that 2 million people were injured in auto accidents in 2010, many of which were caused by impaired driving (which includes drowsy driving).
The problem is becoming such an issue that Uber is now requiring drivers to offline for six straight hours after driving for 12 hours total. Lyft is also requiring drivers to take six-hour breaks for every 12 hours driven.
The AASM says these requirements aren’t good enough, because many drivers work multiple jobs or for multiple ride-hailing services. Ridesharing drivers also tend to drive late at night or in the early morning hours when sleepiness is at its peak.
Unfortunately, these issues only fuel and support the autonomous ridesharing industry. And the AASM is now pushing for government officials, ridesharing companies, law enforcement officers and medical professionals to work together to address the issue. It could lead to new regulations and laws that impact the industry in new and possibly negative ways.