A small research team is developing a self-driving, autonomous vehicle at the Free University of Berlin. The vision: in the future there will no longer be private cars but rather only autonomous vehicles that are used by people like public transport. Is this the start of the end of the taxi industry? Project manager Professor Raul Rojas was delighted that it was actually Taxi Times that asked this question, as his surprising answers show that taxi drivers don’t need to fear job losses, nor taxi companies their right to exist.
Taxi Times: How did you get to the university today, Mr. Rojas?
Raúl Rojas: By car, I drove myself.
When will you be able to come to work in an autonomous vehicle?
That will take a considerable amount of time yet. My route from Kleinmachnow outside Berlin to the Free University combines motorways and city driving.
Since 2006 you have been developing an autonomous vehicle with your students. What have you learned so far?
We set the foundations between 2006 and 2009 with a Chrysler that we converted ourselves. At that time the sensors were still outside the vehicle. With our current test vehicle, a VW Passat, we have mostly integrated the sensors into the bodywork. Only the rotating laser scanner on the roof is still located outside the vehicle.
It looks a bit like the Google car taking photos for Street View.
Yes, a lot of people think that is so, especially those who quickly cover their face when we drive by.
Is there still somebody behind the steering wheel?
Yes, we’ve been driving on roads since 2011 and have been gathering experience since then.
What kind of experience?
Changing lanes due to construction sites, for example. That’s very difficult to deal with.
What is the vision for your project?
Our vision is: the autonomous car is the taxi of the future. The car moves from point A to point B but not only carries one person but rather several at the same time or in succession. The autonomous vehicle will be shared. This is how we can sustainably reduce the number of vehicles in a city.
This is primarily aimed at large cities.
Yes, in my home city of Mexico City, for example, there are three million cars on the road; it’s out of control. In the future there will be better public transport and vehicles that you can share and then they act like taxis.
You say „like taxis“. Do you mean „instead of taxis“?
No, taxi companies should not fear anything because they could own the autonomous vehicles. Our scenario for the taxi industry is at least employment-neutral, if not even employment-positive.
What do you mean by that?
Please read the complete interview in Taxi Times issue 2014, septembre. Use our special offer and subscribe Taxi Times for free until the end of 2015.