In the future, black men will be able to hail a cab.
I know, that’s a ridiculous lede, but just bear with me here for a moment.
A few months ago, I was out for a night of semi-responsible drinking in Fell’s Point, Baltimore City. If you’ve never been, I recommend you make a weekend visit at some point.
Fell’s Point has the highest concentration of bars per square mile of anywhere in the nation, an amazing collection of live music, and quite possibly the greatest Sazerac you’ll ever drink outside of New Orleans.
During that night out on the town, I ran into Derrick, an old friend of mine from college.
Derrick stands at about 6’5″, is around 250 pounds of pure muscle, and is the nicest person I know. But Derrick’s intimidating size and presumably intimidating complexion often result in typecasting – a fact I refused to believe until I had the following experience.
It was about 1:45 AM, which means it was time for Baltimore bars to close up shop. I lived in close enough proximity to walk home, but Derrick needed a ride. As we said our goodbyes, Derrick made a strange request – he wanted me to hail him a cab.
I was genuinely confused by this and told Derrick to hail himself a cab. “I can’t,” he told me. “No one is going to pick up a black man in Baltimore at 2:00 AM.”
At the time, I thought this was complete nonsense. I couldn’t tell if Derrick was messing with my head or if he was just being hypersensitive about his race. As it turned out, neither of those possibilities ended up being the case.
In ignorance, I told Derrick one more time to hail a cab. I assured him one would stop. After all, cabs are everywhere in Fell’s Point on a Saturday night. But to my surprise, cab after cab ignored Derrick’s waves and whistles. It was becoming increasingly clear that my friend would not be able to hail a ride.
“There’s no way,” I still thought. But as I raised my hand, a cab stopped immediately, and I was taken aback.
Derrick jumped into the back seat, and the cab driver looked a bit distraught as I turned around and walked on home.
The Unbiased Cab Driver
There were some interesting articles circulating a few mainstream tech blogs yesterday. A few major outlets were touting that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) had agreed to sell 2,500 Gx3200 driverless vehicles to transportation and delivery company Uber.
According to these reports, Uber would allow its users to to hail a driverless (and presumably racially-indifferent) cab to their current location and pay the fare before the vehicle even arrives.
Now, this would have been great news for someone like Derrick, if only it were true. You see, the origin of these reports was a fictional piece written by TechCrunch’s Ryan Lawler.
In a rush to get news out as quick as possible, a few careless writers mistook the article for truth and skipped over some very obvious details in the process.
First, current regulations do not allow for the commercial travel of fully autonomous vehicles. Second, Uber had reportedly announced the purchase in its Q2 earnings report, despite it being a private company that does not publicly release quarterly reports.
Furthermore, there is no such thing as the Gx3200 – Google equips the Toyota Prius with its driverless technology.
Finally, the year is 2013 – not 2023, which was the published date listed on Lawler’s original article.
Fact from Fiction
Despite the fictional nature of this story, Google’s investment in Uber isn’t entirely far-fetched. In fact, the company’s venture capital arm Google Ventures recently purchased a reported 1.8 million Series C-1 preferred shares from Uber, at a price of $250 million.
Uber is a venture-funded startup that makes a mobile application connecting passengers with drivers of luxury vehicles. The company’s pickup services operate in at least 15 major cities across the U.S., as well as several cities overseas including Paris, Rome, Sydney, and Munich.
The Uber mobile app does exist, and it is available on both iOS and Android mobile operating systems. In addition to easily ordering a ride through the app, users can track their driver’s location and rate the quality of service as well.
Lawler’s idea that this kind of platform will eventually be used for ordering automatic transportation is completely feasible, which is probably why the article fooled everyone so easily in the first place.
As stated earlier, Google has only been outfitting existing cars with its driverless systems, not making full-fledged vehicles.
However, Google is reportedly in negotiations with auto-component companies Continental AG (CON.DE) and Magna International (NYSE: MGA) with the intent to build an autonomous vehicle.
For those of us looking to invest in the inevitable autonomous vehicle market, Continental is the biggest player to keep an eye on right now. In addition to nearing a cooperation agreement with Google, Continental is also currently in talks with IBM (NYSE: IBM), reportedly regarding a central computer system for vehicle-to-vehicle communication.
Continental is the the second largest auto-parts manufacturer in the world, and it has 1,300 researchers and developers working with autonomous driving as their ultimate goal.
Continental expects commercial vehicles to reach the market in about a decade. Google, however, is a bit more ambitious, with the expectation of driverless cars becoming commercially available in California by 2017.
Turning progress to profits, Jason Stutman
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