New research shows just why Google and Uber are so interested in the idea of self driving cars. European transportation experts say congested cities could become a thing of the past, so long as people are prepared to be chauffeured by a robot driver.
A new study, published Thursday by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, suggests that wide scale adoption of "taxibots" could cut the number of cars needed to perform the same number of journeys per day in major cities to just 10% of their current numbers.
The scientists used data from Lisbon, Portugal, to simulate how such self-driving cabs would affect traffic. Even with only one passenger per ride and no public transport like streetcars or buses in operation, the number of cars would still drop by 77 per cent.
The authors said replacing personal cars with self-driving cabs would also open up valuable real estate currently used for public parking to lucrative development opportunities. In Lisbon's case this would be the equivalent of over 200 football fields.
The scope of the opportunity shows the potential size of the market and who would stand to capitalize - those making the automated cars and more importantly whoever was controlling the dispatch of them.
While Uber seems poised to control dispatch it's unclear whether such cabs would be privately or publicly run. Given they would operate very similarly to public transit and be under tight regulation by the city, its conceivable that such ride sharing services could be an extension of public transit and not the taxi industry.