Posts tagged with "Uber":

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Waymo faces tech hurdles as self-driving taxi deadline looms

As the technology propelling autonomous vehicles lurches forward, car companies have been struggling to make the leap between fundamental research and a marketable product. After an Uber test car struck and killed a woman in March of this year, the ride-sharing company abruptly shut down their self-driving program in Arizona. Now Waymo, the Alphabet-owned self-driving car company that had pledged it would launch a fleet of autonomous taxis in Arizona by the end of 2018, has reportedly been running into issues of their own. According to The Information, residents of Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, have become fed up with Waymo’s testing. The year-long process has seen cars stop without warning while making right turns at a T-shaped intersection, and sources have told The Information that the human safety drivers stationed in the passenger seat have routinely been forced to take manual control of the car. As with most other autonomous vehicle companies, Waymo uses safety drivers to take over when the car is in an unsafe or illegal position; the disengagement rate, or how frequently the human driver needs to take over per miles driven, is generally indicative of how well a self-driving car can move around on its own. The cars in Chandler have been deployed within a geo-fenced area–a location with GPS-defined boundaries–around Waymo’s office. Even in this small area, residents have complained that the abrupt stopping at intersections has caused them to nearly rear-end the test cars or to illegally drive around them. Waymo wouldn’t comment specifically on The Information’s report, but a spokesperson has said that Waymo’s cars are "continually learning" and that "safety remains its highest priority." The company hasn’t backed down from its ride-hailing plan either, though it may be some time before a truly autonomous taxi service hits the streets. Waymo plans to station a human chaperone in each taxi, and the cars will operate within a set area where the streets have been thoroughly mapped. Early adopters will (maybe) be able to hail a ride in Waymo’s fleet of autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans at the end of the year, but the company eventually hopes to roll out 20,000 electric Jaguar-built SUVs by 2020.
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New York City might limit the number of drivers using ride-hailing apps

Last week, the New York Times reported that New York City officials are “moving to cap the number of vehicles driving for Uber and other ride-hailing services,” amid concerns over congestion, the exploitation of drivers' wages, and the livelihood of the city’s iconic yellow cab drivers. If passed, the legislation would make New York the first major American city to limit the number of for-hire vehicles. A recent report by Schaller Consulting titled The New Automobility: Lyft, Uber and the Future of American Cities suggests that shared ride services such as UberPOOL and Lyft “while touted as reducing traffic, in fact add mileage to city streets.” They are reported to increase congestion on city streets by up to 160 percent. The Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) in total added 5.7 billion miles of driving in the nation’s nine largest metro areas. The rivalry between taxi and Uber drivers has pushed down the price of riding in the city, and there are increasing concerns over the dwindling wages of Uber drivers and the estimated 70,000 app drivers who earn less than the minimum wage. TNCs are known to recruit more drivers than needed to minimize their customers’ wait time. Taxi drivers aren't faring much better; as customers have flocked to app-based rides, drivers have felt the weight economically. Since December, six taxi drivers have committed suicide over their failing businesses. As the city debates the merit and harms being done by app-based car companies, the cap had been suggested by the City Council as a potential solution to these problems. However, the cap may not work as intended. As Streetsblog NYC theorizes, “an Uber ceiling will encourage permit-holders to rent their idle vehicles to other drives who want in.” It is believed that the cap could further dilute driver earnings. Uber and Lyft recently offer an alternative by proposing to create a $100 million fund for the medallion drivers in exchange for doing away with the cap. The Verge reported on the “hardship fund,” which was “summarily rejected” by the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. The TNCs are expected to continue to scramble to rally against the bill. The City Council will vote on it next week.
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Lyft buys Citi Bike, is now America’s largest bike-share business

Lyft has gone multimodal and acquired most of bike-share company Motivate, supplementing its car-for-hire business model with ownership of the country’s largest network of docked bicycles. The purchase means that Lyft is now the owner of New York’s Citi Bike program and will continue to maintain Motivate's existing bike-share programs across eight cities. Lyft’s purchase, coming in at a rumored $250 million, sets the ridesharing company on a direct collision course with rival Uber, who picked up electric bike startup JUMP for $200 million in April. Both companies have expressed that enhancing urban mobility using a variety of vehicles is their ultimate goal, and the meteoric rise of dockless scooters seems to lend credence to the idea that commuters are looking into alternative transit options. Moving forward, Citi Bike will be renamed “Lyft Bike” and the maintenance section of Motivate will be spun off as a separate company responsible for keeping Lyft’s fleet running. Uber and Lyft’s purchases are the next logical steps in extending their grasp on 'first mile-last mile' transportation, as systems that ferry passengers to and from mass transit options are known. Both ridesharing companies are betting that they can corner the market on whatever form of urban navigation ultimately wins out, including self-driving cars, and are building out their real estate portfolio in the meantime. "Whether it's taking a car,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told CNBC earlier this year, “whether it's taking a pooled car, whether it's taking a bike, whether you should walk or even now we want to build out the capability for you to take a bus or subway. We want to be the A-to-B platform for transportation." Still, Lyft’s purchase might have come too late to get an edge on their main competitor. New York City announced on Tuesday that the city would be testing out electric, dockless bikes capable of reaching up to 20 miles-per-hour in three underserved neighborhoods across the city. Fordham in the Bronx, the Rockaways in Queens, and Staten Island’s North Shore will all act as test beds for dockless bicycles this summer. These areas were chosen because they do not infringe on Citi Bike’s reach in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and parts of Queens. Each neighborhood will receive 200 bikes courtesy of Lime and Uber's Jump Bikes after July 28, and if the program proves popular, the service could be expanded throughout the city. The move to dockless bikes in those areas would preclude building pricey docking infrastructure because bicycles can be left at any spot between the curb and sidewalk.
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Uber shuts down self-driving car business in Arizona after investigators release findings

Uber announced yesterday that it would be canceling any future autonomous vehicle endeavors in Arizona, abruptly terminating all 300 of its employees in the state (most of them test drivers). The move follows the release of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) findings that the car involved in the fatal crash on March 19 in Tempe, Arizona, detected someone crossing but failed to brake. Uber had previously voluntarily suspended all of its self-driving testing until the review, involving the NTSB, National Highway Traffic Administration, and the Tempe Arizona Police Department, had concluded. While the ride-sharing company had intended to put its robot cars back on the streets in Pittsburgh, California, and Arizona, it appears that the return to the road may be scaled back. After canceling any future plans for Arizona, Uber will only definitively resume testing in Pittsburgh; talks between the company and California’s regulators are reportedly ongoing. “We’re committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future," said Uber. "In the meantime, we remain focused on our top-to-bottom safety review, having brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture.” The NTSB’s preliminary report, available in full here, doesn’t paint Uber in a flattering light. The safety board discovered that, as speculated earlier this month, the self-driving vehicle detected pedestrian Elaine Herzberg but failed to act. In the report, the NTSB writes that the car recognized that there was an obstacle in the road a full 6 seconds before the crash, but that the emergency braking feature had been disabled. Emergency braking is a tightrope that self-driving cars have to navigate; if the braking threshold is set too high, then the car will stop for “false positives” (ie, a plastic bag, a branch in the road) and create a choppy ride. If the threshold is set too high, the ride will be smooth but the car might plow through obstacles in its way, real or imagined. According to the NTSB’s report, “Emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.” As Uber scales back its autonomous ambitions on the ground, the company is still pushing ahead in the race to conquer the skies.
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Uber reveals flying taxi prototype and aims for 2023 launch

Uber’s flying taxi service is one step closer to getting off the ground after the ride-sharing company unveiled its latest flying car concept at their second annual Elevate conference in Los Angeles. The final design isn’t set in stone, but this new prototype is a template for the company’s five manufacturing partners to build off of. Elevate, also the name of Uber’s flying taxi business, wants to let passengers hail a flying car via app and hop from one rooftop sky port to another. Designing a quiet, electric urban helicopter is no small technical feat, and Uber’s latest proposal shows something of a cross between a jet, drone, and helicopter that’s capable of vertical takeoffs and landings (eVTOL). The shuttles will seat four, though they’ll have to be autonomously driven for Uber to make a profit; otherwise two of the seats would go towards a pilot and co-pilot. To make the trips affordable, Elevate will introduce a model similar to Uber Pool, where customers can share a ride that’s going in the same direction and split the cost. Elevate expects its flying cars to hover around 1,000 to 2,000 feet off the ground and travel at 150- to 200-miles-per-hour, and has thrown out several reference models for its aerospace partners, Karem, Embraer, Pipistrel, Aurora Flight, and Bell as platforms to build off of. The latest model, first shown yesterday, would use four sets of stacked rotors for vertical lift and a tail-mounted rotor for thrust. Karem, the latest company to join Elevate, wants to build a working prototype of its eVTOL by 2020 and put them into commercial use by 2023. It might seem ambitious, but it’s a target that Elevate’s other partners are also aiming for. The infrastructure hurdle is another significant challenge that Uber will have to overcome if it really wants to make this system a reality. Besides having to actually develop software for the autonomously flying shuttles (something Uber has struggled with on the ground), the sky ports themselves and an unmanned air traffic control system will need to be built out. Elevate will be getting a bit of a boost in that department, as the company recently teamed up with NASA and the US Army to bring its ridesharing dreams to the sky.
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What role do architects have in a driverless future?

The rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is inevitable and—depending on who you ask—they’ll either eliminate car crashes and save the environment, or muscle out pedestrians from the street, steal our personal data, and create biblical levels of gridlock in our cities. But despite the divide over how the technology should be implemented, the common thread that runs between apostles and bashers alike is the belief that cities, planners, and architects are woefully unprepared for the changes self-driving cars will bring. In November 2017, the AIA held an event centered on the topic, "Anticipating the Driverless City,” and the furor seems justified following the death of a pedestrian at the grille of an autonomous Uber car. “Planners think in 30-year increments, and autonomous vehicles are already hitting the streets today,” Nico Larco, co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon, said. “Urban planners should be terrified.” Larco’s not wrong. Only a few states even have regulations for driverless cars, let alone ideas for designing a future without parking. With Ford launching self-delivering pizzas in Miami, Google’s Waymo rolling out an autonomous ridesharing service in Arizona, and driverless taxis making inroads in cities all over the world, architects and planners will either need to look ahead or be stuck in triage mode. Sam Schwartz, former New York City Traffic Commissioner from 1982 to 1986 and founder of his eponymous traffic and transportation planning and engineering firm, has categorized the potential futures as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The “good” A utopic self-driving car scenario would have driverless cars constantly circulating and on the prowl for riders, while providing “first mile, last mile” access to and from souped-up mass-transit corridors. If AVs truly take off and replace a sizable portion of manned cars on the street, then parking lots, garages, and driveways—not to mention thousands of square feet of on-street parking per block—would sit vacant. Walking, cycling, and autonomous (electric) buses would feature heavily in a multi-modal transit mix, and streets would narrow as bioswales and strips of public parks replaced parking spots. There has been movement on designing for that future; FXCollaborative, HOK, Arup, KPF, and other prominent firms have all put forward scalable designs for reclaiming the urban fabric. Speculation has already forced public officials in Pittsburgh to put together plans for integrating self-driving cars into the city’s fabric by 2030, and developers in New York are building flexible parking garages that can easily be converted for other uses. However, the key to actually enacting any of these schemes lies in large-scale government intervention. Without a concerted top-down reclamation and conversion of unused streets, AV-centric zoning policies, or renewed investment in mass-transportation options, cities will never be able to integrate AVs into their infrastructure. The largest hurdle to achieving the “good” future isn’t technological, it’s political; even self-driving evangelists have conceded that a laissez-faire approach might result in increased traffic on the road. The “bad” Uber, Lyft, Google, and a raft of competitors are already jostling to bring self-driving taxis to market so that these companies won’t have to pay human drivers. Under the guise of preventing traffic fatalities—there were nearly 40,000 lives lost in the U.S. alone in 2017—the big players are lobbying all levels of government to allow their AVs on the street. If vehicle miles traveled per person in AVs were allowed to increase without intervention, society could slide into an ugly scenario. This dystopic outcome would see mass transit hollowed out by a lack of funding and pedestrians shunted out of the streets in the name of safety. Studies have already shown that existing ridesharing services increase congestion and cause bus services to deteriorate, and if commuters get fed up with slow commutes and turn to ridesharing services, mass transit options could be sent into death spirals due to decreased revenue. Driverless cars are often touted as being spatially efficient, especially as they can join each other to form road trains—tightly packed groups of vehicles moving along optimized routes. But considering how much space on the road 40 bicycles or 40 commuters in a bus would take up, the flaw in that thinking becomes self-evident. Even if artificial intelligence can route traffic more effectively than a human, putting more cars on the road offsets the gains in speed by decreasing the amount of space available. Although computers might be great at coordinating with each other, the external human element will remain a wild card no matter what. Well-planned cities that prioritize walkability and ground-level experience would place pedestrians over passengers, but a worst-case scenario could see cyclists and walkers forced to wear locator beacons so that AVs could “see” them better, while hemmed in behind fencing. The “ugly” The worst driverless car scenarios take Le Corbusier’s famous claim that “the city built for speed is the city built for success” to heart. The high-speed arterial thoroughfares Corbusier envisioned in The Radiant City were realized in the destructive city planning policies of the 1950s and '60s, but municipalities have spent heavily to correct their mistakes 50 years later. Much in the same way that widening roads actually worsens traffic, if planners and architects ignore or give deference to driverless cars and continue to prioritize car culture in their decisions, congestion, gridlock, and withered public transit systems are sure to follow. The adoption of self-driving technology will likely birth new building typologies with unique needs, from centralized hubs where the cars park themselves to AV repair shops. As futurist Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, points out, self-driving cars aren’t a new concept. Their lineage can be directly traced to ideas introduced by GE at the 1939 World’s Fair, but this is the first time that the technology has caught up with the vision. Planners and politicians have had 80 years to grapple with solutions; they can’t afford to take any longer.
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Uber suspends self-driving car operations following fatal crash

Following a flurry of attention after one of Uber’s self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, the ridesharing company has announced that it would let its permit to test autonomous vehicles (AVs) in California expire on March 31. According to a March 27th letter from the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Uber has suspended all of its autonomous vehicle testing indefinitely until the Arizona investigation wraps up. It’s only been ten days since Uber’s self-driving car killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, but the news around the event has moved incredibly quickly. After it was revealed that the vehicle was traveling 40 miles-per-hour in a 35 mph zone, video of the incident showed that the human “safety driver” had taken her eyes off the road. Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey has since suspended Uber’s license to test AVs, and the company has settled with the family of the deceased. The investigation into the cause of the crash is being investigated by The National Traffic Safety Board, National Highway Traffic Administration, and the Tempe Arizona Police Department. “We proactively suspended our self-driving operations, including in California, immediately following the Tempe incident,” Uber spokeswoman Sarah Abboud told the New York Times. “Given this, we decided to not reapply for a California D.M.V. permit, with the understanding that our self-driving vehicles would not operate on public roads in the immediate future.” Uber may have dropped its California application because of the stringent requirements that the state places on self-driving vehicle testing. Companies are required to document the number of “disengagements” when a human takes over, as well as complete incident reports; it’s likely that Uber would have had a tough time getting its application approved without a definitive result from the Arizona investigation. Still, as Uber draws down, other self-driving car companies are ramping up their efforts considerably. The Alphabet-owned Waymo announced on Tuesday that they had partnered with Jaguar to produce a fleet of 20,000 (electric) autonomous luxury taxis, and that they expect to make 1 million trips a day by 2020.
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Uber self-driving car fatally strikes Arizona pedestrian

A self-driving car has killed a pedestrian in Arizona, a grim first in the field of autonomous vehicles.

The car, which was operated by Uber and staffed by a human driver, was motoring through the city of Tempe when it struck a woman on foot. The New York Times reported that the woman was crossing the street but not at a crosswalk late Sunday night or early Monday morning. The woman's identity was not revealed.

Uber has suspended self-driving vehicles on public roads in Tempe and three other cities—Toronto, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh—where it was testing its autonomous vehicles.

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Uber and NASA to bring flying taxis to Los Angeles

Ready to zoom into the future? Uber is partnering with NASA to bring an air taxi service to Los Angeles as soon as 2020. The battery-powered, four-person electric helicopter would sail above L.A.'s clogged, serpentine road network, logging 60 miles with just one four-minute charge. The project, dubbed Elevate, relies on UTM, NASA's emerging air traffic control technology. UTM stands for unmanned traffic management, a way to control low-altitude flights, without orange flag–waving workers. While this idea may seem far-fetched to outsiders, the project partners are optimistic that the flying cars could be a viable transit option by 2028, just in time for the L.A.'s Olympics hosting duties. Previously, the company announced it will bring its flying car service to Dallas and Dubai. According to Forbes, Embraer, Bell Helicopter, and Aurora, a Boeing-owned company, have already signed onto Elevate. Here's a video from Uber that explains the project, the research behind it, and next steps:
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Uber launches new data sharing website, Movement

Yesterday, ride service company Uber launched its new website, Movement, which can be used to study traffic patterns and speeds across cities, as well as compare average trip times across certain points. Movement’s data is be aggregated from Uber drivers' smartphones, which use accelerometers and global positioning technology. Although not yet open to the general public, the website’s current disclosure explains Uber’s underlying purpose: “Over the past six and a half years, we’ve learned a lot about the future of urban mobility and what it means for cities and the people who live in them. We’ve gotten consistent feedback from cities we partner with that access to our aggregated data will inform decisions about how to adapt existing infrastructure and invest in future solutions to make our cities more efficient. We hope Uber Movement can play a role in helping cities grow in a way that works for everyone.” Case studies can currently be found on the website, including insights from other cities and feedback from Uber’s early partners in Washington, D.C., and Sydney. Once it's eventually open to all, Movement aims to meet the needs of various users. City officials can access detailed information that could be used for road improvements, major events, and new transit lines. Movement also intends to provide planners and policymakers with data for decision-making surrounding future infrastructure investments. In some ways, Movement seems to be Uber’s peace offering to cities. According to The New York Times, the company hopes access to its data will persuade city planners to consider the company as part of urban development and transit systems for future city planning. Uber has its critics, though. In the Fast Company article, “Here’s a fresh reminder how Uber and other gig-economy giants use data to get their way with cities,” Ruth Reader reports that giants such as Uber and Airbnb seem to be using their data resources as “means to quell anxious officials.” While receiving much-needed data and resources, she contends, city planners surrender the upper hand to gig-economy enterprises. Hopefully, the future of Movement will bring truth to the words on its home page, “Let’s find smarter ways forward,” and a long-awaited middle-ground between these companies and the cities will be reached. You can visit Movement's website here.
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Oakland Uber Alles: Gensler unveils new East Bay headquarters for booming ride-share company

Not content with 423,000 square feet designed by SHoP Architects in San Francisco’s Mission Bay, Uber is expanding into Oakland. The company purchased the former Sears building from developer Lane Partners, who bought the building last year. Genlser is on deck to transform the old department store into 330,000 square feet of creative office space. The iconic chunk of real estate prominently faces both Broadway and Telegraph Avenue and its redevelopment marks a turning point for Oakland. Renamed Uptown Station, the building is located atop the 19th Street BART station. The ride-share company plans to locate up to 3,000 employees in the Oakland headquarters, noting that some 2,000 Uber employees currently live in the East Bay. According to the San Francisco Business Times, the expansion is a game changer for Oakland. It reported that if Uber fills the whole space, it “would become Oakland’s largest employer, that isn’t a government agency or medical center.” Gensler’s proposed renovation of the Sears Building comes with a possible $40 million dollar price tag. Interactive renderings done by Steelblue for Lane Partners show the old building stripped down to the concrete and brick, with an 85-foot-tall atrium spilling light into an interior courtyard full of retail spaces on the first floor. ‎"We're proud that Uber was attracted to Oakland's creative energy, incredible talent, progressive values, prime location and accessibility to the entire region," Oakland Mayor Leslie Schaaf was quoted as saying in the San Jose Mercury News. While Uber will surely attract more investment in the neighborhood, Downtown Oakland’s revival since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake has also led to increasing displacement in the city’s urban core. Last month, UC Berkeley researchers at the Project For Urban Development released a study that tracks displacement and gentrification in the region. The accompanying interactive map shows a swath of advanced gentrification along Broadway from the Old Oakland historic district to the Temescal neighborhood.