The last generation of kids who will need to learn to drive has already been born, as far as Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is concerned.
He’s incredibly bullish on self-driving cars and expects Uber to begin putting them into service within 18 months. Khosrowshahi shared his ambitions in an interview with Bloomberg Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait at The Year Ahead 2018 conference.
“We will have autonomous cars on the road, I believe, within the next 18 months,” Khosrowshahi said. “Not as a test case but as a real case out there.” Though he noted, “true autonomy for every single use case is some ways away.”
— Bloomberg (@business) January 23, 2018
Uber has already started sending some self-driving cars to users who request them through the app in Tempe, Ariz. But those vehicles come with two Uber engineers in the front seats in case of emergency. Uber is also testing self-driving cars in Phoenix and Pittsburgh, home of the company’s Advanced Technologies Group.
In markets where Uber is testing self-driving cars, Khosrowshahi anticipates around five percent of trips requested by passengers will make sense for autonomous cars without a human driver playing backup. In Phoenix or Pittsburgh, for example, a user might request a ride and 95 percent of the time weather, road conditions, or other factors will require a human driver.
“For five percent of cases, everything is going to fall into place and we will send an autonomous car,” Khosrowshahi said, noting that the rider will have the option to choose, human or self-driving car.
Over time, that five percent will grow and autonomous vehicles will learn the city where they drive. That learning period — Khosrowshahi anticipates it will take about five years — will have to be replicated in each city where Uber deploys self-driving cars.
He thinks “it’ll take 10-15 years” for Uber’s autonomous vehicles to become ubiquitous.
Uber’s ambitions don’t end with that audacious goal. The company is also speeding ahead with Uber Elevate, an initiative to make flying cars (you might call them helicopters) a reality. Uber is developing smaller, quieter rotors that allow the “vertical takeoff and landing” aircraft to operate more realistically in populated areas.
“If you add sharing into the equation you can actually get the economics of going from A to B,” Khosrowshahi said. “We think within five-to-seven years to a place where normal people would think about taking these flying cars. That’ll be the beginning and then it’s about scaling.”
Khosrowshahi took the helm at Uber last summer after former CEO Travis Kalanick resigned amid a series of scandals. In the fall, Khosrowshahi posted new “cultural norms” to help guide the company as it tries to get back on track.
In his interview with Bloomberg, Khosrowshahi said he wants to take the next year to return to “normalcy,” “get rid of the distractions,” and “get the company back to business.” After that? The sky is the limit.