On February 2nd Bloomberg reported Google’s Drummond has informed Uber's board of the possibility the search giant would launch its own ridesharing service. At the same time Uber announced a strategic partnership with Carnegie Mellon University as well as the creation of the Uber Advanced Technologies Center near the CMU campus in Pittsburg.
What for a long time seemed like a match made in heaven, with many expecting Google to take full control of Uber at some point in time, already having invested $258 million, now seems to evolve into a fierce battle between 2 sharing economy giants, invading each other’s turf. With Uber’s valuation recently reaching $40 Billion, Google must have been thinking they could launch a similar service themselves, at a much lower cost.
Clearly, car sharing is the killer application for driverless vehicles (no, it’s not safety). Autonomous vehicles will only make sense, both from a business and a consumer point of view, as a money saving technology enabling widespread, ubiquitous uptake of car sharing, allowing customers to remotely call unmanned driverless vehicles and use them at an affordable cost. With Google’s efforts to partner with the automotive industry on autonomous driving failing so far, it might look for a different approach, setting up fleets of shared electric driverless cars in city contexts, and explore very different, more direct monetization strategies as opposed to merely licensing its technology to car makers.
Similarly, Uber seems to acknowledge its current approach of using amateur taxi drivers might ultimately proof not to be scalable, hitting legal, technical, safety and other challenges. In this respect, the crowdsourcing-like strategy of unlocking assets owned by consumers by companies such as Uber might just represent a transition phase, ultimately resulting in commercial fleets of robotic cars. This is what’s at stake.
This latest turn of events, yet again, leaves car manufacturers wondering what’s happening, many of which being involved both in driverless vehicle technology research and development as well as first generation car sharing initiatives such as BMW’s DriveNow and Daimler’s car2go. All of a sudden, both Daimler and BMW might be getting some new ideas as well.