Reuters reported in late October that Toyota had invested around $10 million in Getaround, a ride-sharing service based out of San Francisco that was founded in 2009. Getaround is different from services like Uber, as users of Getaround can search their local area for available privately-owned rental cars that they can rent and use personally for as little at $5. Users have access to these rental vehicles for a certain amount of time, rather than simply being ferried from one location to the next like with Lyft or Uber. Automotive speculative analysts have reasoned that Toyota’s investment in a ride-sharing entity indicates they are stacking their chips for the upcoming industrial boom of driverless taxi services. Some project that the first fully-automated driving services will be enacted by 2020.
The potential benefits of driverless taxi services are multiple, and are enough for more than 18 large companies to invest resources into at least studying its practicality. In theory, they can create less traffic, lessen pollution, and increase the efficiency and safety of roads. Of course, on the other hand, a world filled with driverless taxis means millions of taxi drivers and drivers who work for companies like Uber will be out of a job. While the technology is essentially ready for implementation, the legal framework surrounding driverless cars and taxis is a continuously-developing headache. There is no telling how legislation will translate between federal, state, and local lines, or if it will be possible to form any solid ground rules anytime soon.
After all, who is at fault when an accident inevitably occurs between a human driver and a driverless car? How about an accident that occurs between two autonomous vehicles? There are hundreds of possible factors in play and dozens of parties that could be at fault. Taking into consideration these uncertainties, most analysts don’t foresee driverless taxis making a significant impact on the world for at least a decade or two. No matter how this industry, plucked straight from the pages of science fiction, pans out in the future, the fact that huge companies such as Toyota are entering the driverless car game proves that this is no fad or silly pie-in-the-sky fantasy. Driverless cars, and taxis, are coming sooner rather than later.