Autonomous Economy? Not So Much, Yet

Eager to replace people your business processes? Uber is reconsidering its approach to autonomous vehicles after racing ahead with the project in Pittsburgh, the Bay Area, and Arizona, where a fatal accident with an Uber car raised serious safety questions. The company is laying off 100 autonomous car operators after one of them was found to be streaming The Voice during the deadly collision in Tempe earlier this year. However, many of the operators will be retained in other roles, so that Uber doesn’t lose their experience during the trials. Uber isn’t quitting, it’s rethinking how to provide autonomous transportation.

After an Uber self-driving car fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., in March, Uber paused testing of its experimental vehicles on public roads. On Wednesday, it laid off approximately 100 autonomous vehicle operators.

Here’s the question for all companies thinking about automation: When is it appropriate to put your brand entirely in machine hands? I’d argue the answer is “Never.” People are essential. They add so much to the customer engagement that simple savings on staffing cannot justify their wholesale replacement. In sales, service, and transportation, people represent brands and deal with the unexpected.

The right way to use machine learning for the foreseeable future is to augment people with information, guidance, and inspiration, not to drop them from the customer equation.

Source: Uber Layoffs Signal Hard Look at Public AV Testing


Putting A Purpose Behind Lyft’s Wheels

This interview with Lyft VP of Marketing, Melissa Waters, is worthwhile reading. She describes a future built on drivers providing hospitality experiences: “We will continue to have drivers and people servicing vehicles. We think in the frame of hospitality and customer service.”

It’s when she dives into the challenge of building the Lyft brand that the clear gap in experience appears. Note the importance of the customer engagement, which will ultimately rely on the quality of the app and driver interaction. Lyft has described vehicles as rolling offices, hotel suites, and as other hybrid personal service/mobility experience. The people in the driver’s seat are the ones providing the human service/

Waters: High-growth tech marketing is often focused on growth marketing, which was previously known as performance marketing and direct response. It’s the nature of high-growth companies who are looking for added growth and need discipline. While all that is true, it’s fairly short term and is a function designed to deliver short-term returns. Not all young, high-growth companies have brand marketers who can think big picture and long-term early enough in the company’s lifecycle. They do a disservice by delaying brand building and general marketing principles to later on in the life stage of a company.


Ford’s Hypothetical Autonomous Car Test

Ford is testing autonomous vehicles with delivery service Postmates in the Miami area. The catch is, the cars’ automation is merely simulated to gather feedback from customers about the experience. A driver is hiding behind tinted glass.

The reality is Ford is testing car configurations. With three lockers, the Ford vans in Miami will roll up and open the appropriate locker for the customer. The question is whether people will be unnerved by driverless cars, but we suspect the findings will be that a three-locker vehicle will be hard-pressed to operate efficiently. Since customers must leave their house and walk to the van, the challenges are letting people know when the delivery is available and how quickly the van can move on to the next stop. 

The next time you order food from Postmates in Miami or Miami Beach, don’t be too surprised if you have to grab your Cuban sandwiches from what looks like a self-driving van. Ford’s latest autonomous delivery test is underway, as the automaker has partnered with Postmates to bring you goods from more than 70 local businesses. But there’s actually a driver behind the tinted windows — Ford says the Transit Connects give the appearance that they’re autonomous vehicles.

Source: Engadget.

Time to Rethink: Uber Autonomous Car Kills Pedestrian

Source: The Star Online

The myth of perfect safety in a world transported by autonomous cars has endured until today. A pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, was killed by an Uber autonomous car with a driver at the wheel on Sunday night. The company suspended testing throughout the U.S. and Canada as a result.

Perfect safety in complex systems is impossible, yet autonomous car developers have insisted that no one could be hurt by a computer-controlled car as a matter of faith. Visions of perfectly ordered autonomous vehicles avoiding humans without fail set safety expectations far too high, and the industry, not just Uber, will pay for dealing in superlatives instead of reality. 

Autonomous cars will improve their safety performance, just as overall driving safety has continuously increased since it became a regulatory priority the 1960s. The U.S. currently enjoys a traffic death rate of 1.25 per 100 million vehicle miles driven. Waymo, Google’s autonomous car group, had counted four million miles driven by November 2017. Despite this lack of comparable miles driven, absurd claims, such as “Google’s Self-Driving Cars Are Ridiculously Safe” have become common

Reality bites hard. Uber CEO Dara Kosrowshahi tweeted his regrets to the victim and their family. He needs to visit the site of the accident, get a complete review of the circumstances, and reset safety expectations accordingly. This may require the company fallback to emphasizing human drivers over self-driving cars for the time being.

Autonomous car safety is in its infancy. Now that a real-world death has proven the technology needs to advance substantially to best human driving safety, ridesharing and delivery services will need to reconsider the scope of testing, and the timelines promised for the general introduction of the technology.

This is not an-anti technology view, it’s a realistic product safety criticism that will deeply affect people’s views of the companies hoping to deliver autonomous vehicles over the next couple years. Stop marketing autonomous vehicles until they can beat human drivers consistently, but keep developing and testing in safe situations. 

As autonomous cars become available, we think many consumers will depend on local influencers who experience the rides, share their stories, and package mobility for the consumer’s comfort level. If a person is afraid of being in a self-driving car, there is still an opportunity to provide products or services delivered by autonomous vehicles. The solution will be person-to-person marketing that finds those first uses for smart vehicles that consumers will accept.