The Uber App Has Already Shown Its Potential
Elon Musk dreams about an environmental apocalypse, triggering the rapture of a select group of humans to Mars. Amazon.com, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos finds ingenious ways to make more money through Amazon and his Blue Origin space venture. But the real billionaire visionary to watch is Travis Kalanick and his Uber Technologies Inc startup. Uber and the “Uber” app are the elements of a massive transportation revolution.
The revolution, which launched when the first user ever clicked on the Uber app, is still incomplete. To finish what it has started, it needs the driverless car, though this, too, is coming. The driverless car—once fully developed and regulated—will steamroll the very concept of private motoring. It’s not so much a question of an Uber or highway world; it’s an Uber or nothing else world.
In a high school yearbook, Kalanick would be voted most likely to grow up to be Darth Vader, with the Uber app serving as “the dark side” of “the Force.”
There can be no doubt of Uber’s ultimate strategy: eliminating the need (or the availability) of private motorized transportation. Sure, if you used your Uber app to hail one of its cars, a private driver, who pays the costs to own and operate their vehicle from their own pocket, will promptly come to fetch you within minutes.
Soon the innocuous Uber app will link directly to a driverless car, which will magically appear with no hint of a human diver behind the steering wheel. Will there even be a steering wheel in such a vehicle? Indeed, there are people wondering about that very question right now, because the development of the driverless car is already at an advanced stage.
In the early 1980s, The Last Chase, a B-list science-fiction film, described a world where private cars were banned and while technology was abundant, personal freedom was not. That minor film had remarkable foresight, because it seems there is an apparent government blueprint to eliminate the private car.
Look around your surroundings. Whether you live in Europe or North America, regardless of your elected government’s label, there is a conscious effort to reduce cars in cities by allowing for more poorly conceived bicycle lanes. Consumers are getting all kinds of subsidies to buy very boring cars, to drive taxpayer-financed electric cars built by billionaire “visionaries.” The Uber app, however, might just be the stealthiest tactic to eliminate private transportation.
Indeed, Uber has been pumping big money into developing technology for self-driving cars, recruiting a large group of researchers from the U.S. Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute to work on just that. Yet when research institutes are involved, few regular people take notice. The research sounds so far from actually being applied that we quickly forget about it.
As it happens, Uber is in serious talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (NYSE:FCAU) about self-driving cars. Discussions are said to be at an early stage, but there are strong expectations that the companies may launch a joint project before the end of 2016. Uber, as Machiavellian as any company ever was, has also talked to other manufacturers to advance driverless technology. (Source: “Uber CEO Wants to Partner With Automakers, Not Build Cars,” Bloomberg, June 8, 2016.)
The Uber app has not only questioned the need for the more traditional taxi service, but it will also soon eliminate the need for drivers, period. The fact that Uber could secure a partnership with a maker of such driver-oriented vehicles as Fiat Chrysler, which owns such brands as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Jeep, among others, is a miracle among paradoxes.
Quite rightly, Uber said it has no ambition to build its own cars. Rather, the company is seeking partnerships with traditional automakers that can account for manufacturing. Of course, it wants the partnership because Uber will come out on top in the not-so-distant end—every time.
Meanwhile, General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) has invested half a billion dollars in Uber’s competitor Lyft, while Mercedes-Benz and BMW are talking to others about similar ventures, including Microsoft.
But it’s really Uber’s Travis Kalanick who has your car keys and freedom in his hands. And if you don’t believe just how far Kalanick and Uber, which is the world’s most valuable “unicorn” company, can go, consider this: Travis Kalanick, transportation visionary with bona-fide Star Wars villain potential, has no valid driver’s license. He does own a BMW “M3,” a true driver’s car, but it just sits idle in his driveway. When you give up driving an M3, you are no longer interested in driving. Kalanick, who could have any car in the world, relies on the Uber app.
Soon, so will you, whether you like it or not.