Uber's Robotics Plans Could Use Advice From SF Authors

Uber's CEO Travis Kalanick has been quoted as saying "We're at the very beginning stages of becoming a robotics company." Is this a kind of backstory for how the various robotic taxi companies in science fiction got their start?

Kalanick says:


(Uber uses traffic advertising drones in Mexico)

"These cars, when they go into self-driving, you're now starting to become a robotics company so I think we're at the very beginning stages of becoming a robotics company," Kalanick said. "We have hundreds of of scientists working on all parts of robotics, self-driving being number one."

Kalanick also confirmed that the company is currently testing a few of its self-driving cars in the streets of San Francisco, though they are focused on mapping, rather than picking up passengers as those in Pittsburgh do.

"As we move towards the future, autonomy is a pretty critical thing for us — it's existential," he said, though he was quick to point out that the technology wouldn't be ready to replace human drivers entirely for quite awhile.

Science fiction writers have approached the idea of the autonomous cab company in different ways. Philip K. Dick liked the idea of robotic cab drivers (as in A Present for Pat, 1952) or the robot taxi (from Solar Lottery, 1955).

Robert Heinlein wrote about autocabs in Between Planets (1951). The sf Grandmaster had some advice for Uber on how to deal with scofflaw passengers:

...when he tried to get out the door would not open. This reminded him that he must first pay the fare shown in the meter.. He was expecting disconsolately to be carted by the machine off to the nearest police station when he was rescued...

Charles Stross describes a future problem in his excellent 2007 novel Halting State. In the novel, fleets of driverless drones trade of between being remotely piloted and autonomous on highways. However, watch out for hijackings!

Guoanbu assassins have used this technique in the past: They hijack a taxi or car, drive it to a sufficiently isolated location, and crash it... [Passengers] must break out of the taxi while it is stationary at traffic lights, or break into the driver's compartment and disable it..."

See Tin Cabby from Cities in Flight [1957], the autocab from Between Planets [1951] and the autonomic cab from The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch [1964].

There have been real-life attempts to create automated taxis prior to the current era of autonomous cars; see ULTra - driverless automatic taxi and the RobuCAB Robotic Taxi.

Via Mashable.

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