Prepare for Nightmarish Swarms of Google Robot Cars, Says Zipcar Founder – Wired
Google’s driverless car may be the most intriguing new technology to come along in decades. And according Robin Chase, it should also be the most feared.
Chase is the founder of both the car-sharing company Zipcar and the peer-to-peer car sharing outfit Buzzcar, and when she appeared on stage at New York City’s Internet Week this week, she laid out a grim vision of a future world where autonomous cars replace more efficient and more environmentally friendly transportation services, all in the name of personal convenience.
With its driverless car project, Google aims to create an automobile that’s ultimately safer, because it sidesteps human fallibility. Though Chase admits autonomous cars might very well cut down on accidents, she believes that the more pressing issue is the amount of congestion and pollution that cars produce in big cities. Autonomous cars, she says, will only exacerbate these problems.
Today, when they hit the roads, Google’s cars always carry a human who can take the wheel at any time. But Chase worries that, as these automobiles reach the mass market, people will purchase driverless cars and send them out into the streets to run errands on their behalf. Why walk 10 blocks to the dry cleaner, when your car can drive there and back on its own? And who cares if traffic’s terrible at that time of day? Cars don’t get impatient.
That means we’re bound to see more cars on the road, not less, as so many of them run errands and kill time before picking up their owners. “The future of autonomous cars that are personally owned is a nightmare,” Chase said. “I’m going to venture, 50 percent of the cars in the street will have no one in them.” Ultimately, this could wipe out potentially more efficient services like taxis, busses, Uber, Lyft, and yes, Zipcar. “It’s going to take all of them out,” she says.
The solution may be ensure that autonomous cars become the new public transportation, rather than private possessions. Instead of being owned by individuals, they should be owned by cities or by rental car and ride-sharing companies, Chase argues. That way, people may not be so willing to waste trips and pollute the roads and environment. If thought of that way, Chase says, the future of this technology is “actually kind of thrilling.”
Of course, Chase has ample reason to praise the virtue of car sharing. After all, both Zipcar and Buzzcar offer just that. And yet, she said the companies who are likely to dominate this space are Google, Uber, and even rental car companies like Enterprise and Avis. Thanks to Google’s acquisition of the Israeli mapping startup Waze last year, Chase believes Google will own the world of autonomous vehicle software. And Uber, with its slick and intuitive app and recent round of funding from Google, is a frontrunner for operating the user experience. Meanwhile, companies like Enterprise and Avis are in a prime position to handle the fleet management, maintenance, and insurance that would be required to rent out autonomous cars.
However the market develops, Chase believes this technology is not as far away as many of us might think. “It’s probably going to happen in the next 15 years,” she said. “There’s a real race right now in transportation innovation.”