Why Driverless “Robotaxi” Pods Could Be More Unattractive Than A Smelly Crime-Ridden Subway
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By Anton Wahlman
Jan. 24, 2020; General Motors, just like many other automakers and technology companies, is investing in Level 5 driverless vehicles, aka “Robotaxis.”.
On January 21, 2020, GM showed its concept of what their first deployment will look like: A driverless “pod” that fits four people.
The problem with this idea, regardless of the automaker, is that it is essentially a subway car on wheels, and there is a reason most people severely dislike subways.
These Level 5 driverless vehicles may be filled with homeless people, urine, feces, puke, drug needles, and become favorite venues for rapes, robberies, and murders.
Automotive executives have completely lost their minds if they invest in this dystopian future. People don’t want to travel in confined spaces filled with crime and nasty bodily fluids.
NOTE: A version of this article was first published on or about Jan. 22, 2019, on my Seeking Alpha Marketplace site.
On January 21, 2020, General Motors (GM) showed its concept of a driverless vehicle. It has no steering wheel or pedals, and it’s basically a “pod” in which two people are supposed to sit facing two others, in a little “room” and be transported in some direction -- hopefully to their destination of choice as opposed to a venue the government has in mind for their future: GM's Cruise unveils driverless shuttle
All the analysis to date seems to focus on whether -- and if so, when -- it will be possible to deploy such a “Level 5” (driverless) vehicle from a traffic-capable perspective: GM hopes Cruise pays off in the long term Basically, will the car be able to drive from A to B safely.
Just a couple of short years ago, such Level 5 driverless “robotaxi” capability was predicted to have happened already. Now, outside of Tesla’s (TSLA) “one million robotaxis” promised just last April (2019), other automakers are predicting it for anywhere between 2021 and “never.”
Indeed, that discussion of when Level 5 (driverless) autonomy will happen is a very interesting one in its own right. I have addressed it in numerous articles over the last half-decade. My position remains that if an attractive Level 5 (driverless) product can ever be made to work, it will be banned shortly thereafter for national security purposes. You just can’t have 5,000 lbs foreign objects floating around on US soil, potentially being programmed by the most evil elements under the Sun. We don’t allow flying drones anywhere near places where they can do the most damage either. So it’s basically a big waste of effort to think that Level 5 driverless cars will be allowed on U.S. soil in the long run, even if they are ever made to work in any decent way from a traffic management standpoint.
However, that’s not the focus of this article. Rather, I want to explore another dimension of why a driverless vehicle such as the one that GM showed on January 21, 2020, is likely to be a total failure in the marketplace for unrelated reasons.
Specifically, will the robotaxi product be so horrendously unattractive, even if it is able to perform the basic “Point A to Point B” driving function, that nobody will want to use it? I believe there are good reasons to believe that this will become an extremely unattractive product, that almost every single person in society will shun like the plague.
If you are anything like me, you severely dislike any form of collective and public transport -- except airplanes. When visiting a major city such as New York, you never take the subway or the bus. You always take a taxi, in whichever organizational form -- including Lyft (LYFT) and Uber (UBER).
Why? Because collective public transport such as buses and trains/subways are, frankly, disgusting and dangerous. They smell, they lack privacy for conference calls, and you could be sitting next to a major violent criminal -- or someone else that you don’t want to expose to your children.
That brings us back to GM’s vision of a driverless “pod” which it showed on January 21, 2020, and which it is apparently on the verge of detailing further: GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant will build Cruise Origin self-driving shuttle
Who is going to police what happens inside this robotaxi pod, and when people get in and out of it? One key to understanding the futility of this kind of product, is to realize that we are not talking about first deploying it in Monaco or Tokyo. Rather, we are talking about deploying it in today’s U.S. cities, many of whom are getting increasingly filled with bums, drugs and crime. Any unprotected public or semi-public space is being occupied by people who use it as a bathroom, drug-nest, or sleeping area.
Just imagine deploying it in a city such as San Francisco, which is where GM showed this product and where its Level 5 driverless pod business is based. If deployed in that city, several things could immediately happen, given the nature of these pods and the people who would be around the robotaxis, and force themselves into the pods:
The homeless population may be urinating, defecating, puking and shooting up drugs from needles in these driverless vehicles. They do it everywhere else in San Francisco, so obviously these pods would become favorite venues of these activities, just like public bathrooms. By stepping into one of these pods, you may be practically bathing in a pool of filth and bacteria. Others would be shooting up drugs and make their needles dangerous for everyone else. The new District Attorney in San Francisco, who assumed office earlier this month, said that he will not prosecute these “quality of life” crimes, which would make the Robotaxi operator helpless in stopping those who violate their property: : Boudin Will Not Prosecute Prostitution, Public Camping, And Other 'Quality-Of-Life Crimes' Once Sworn In
Criminals and bums may try to rob people who are getting in and out of these vehicles. There would be no driver to help police the situation. I envision that these vehicles would be very visible magnets for robbers and rapists, following them around in search for soon-to-be victims.
People may be raped, robbed and/or murdered in these Level 5 driverless pods. In other words, they would become rape-rooms and slaughter-houses on wheels. A pure dystopian madness.
Some would argue that these pods will be under camera and microphone supervision. Let’s put aside for a moment the privacy implications of that: Someone looking at you, and recording you, as you talk on the phone and/or work on your phone and/or laptop. It’s like a storyline from a dystopian dictatorship, or George Orwell’s 1984.
Rather, you can be sure that people will simply do what they usually do with their laptop’s camera: Place a piece of tape over it. Now, of course, that will also be a most welcome help to the criminals who will seek to exploit the helpless victim inside this confined space. Not that the District Attorney in San Francisco would prosecute the perp anyway, however: Parents guilty of murder and raised by radicals, Chesa Boudin is San Francisco's next DA
It is also important to understand that the risk factor inside these multiple-rider “robotaxis” may be far worse than a generic subway in a notoriously crime-ridden city (such as San Francisco). One reason for this is that at least in a subway car, there may be more people to help against a robbery, rape or stabbing. The sheer probability of there being an actual armed police officer on a regular subway is also higher -- even if the pro-crime city government such as San Francisco vests next-to-zero powers in this police officer.
It is harder for a criminal to get away with an act of evil, in a subway car consisting of 50-75 people, than it is in a tiny pod where there are only 2-4 people. Another scenario inside this dystopian driverless pod is 3 criminals working together, against one victim -- or two criminals against one adult victim and her child.
Today’s manned Uber and Lyft also have one additional advantage over a driverless pod: Their ability to rate the passenger. You know who you are -- maintaining a steady 4.9, or suffering from a poor 4.3 rating because of your boorish personality or tendency to leave gum wraps in the rear seating area. Well, one of these driverless pods, such as GM’s, will lack these ratings because there won’t be any human policing. That also means no cleaning-up between almost every other passenger getting in and out.
To the extent that many people these days are at least modest germaphobes, stepping into a tiny pod filled with urine, feces, puke, blood and drug-infested needles, will also not be an attractive transportation option.
Basically, these driverless pods would have all the negative traits that cause most normal people to avoid public collective transport to begin with -- and amplify them further. Let’s put it this way: I don’t think the CEOs and board members of the companies who are spending billions of dollars of shareholder dollars developing these smelly and dangerous “subway car on wheels” will be riding in them.
No, they will do what normal Americans will continue to do: Drive their own cars. Actually, make that SUVs -- the larger the better.
Nobody wants to sit in a puke, urine and feces-filled Level 5 (driverless) pod alongside three homeless drug addicts who are trying to rob you, rape you, and stab you. This product would be a 100% guaranteed failure, even in San Francisco.
Would you even want to touch any part of these pods -- inside or out -- with your hands? Would you allow your clothes or even your shoes to touch them? Take a walk around San Francisco, and you are ready for a shower after the first block. You wouldn’t want to sit down on a park bench, even if clothed in a Hazmat suit. Imagine getting into a confined “robotaxi” space with these biohazards and crime practically crawling up your orifices. Robotaxi is a non-starter in today’s filthiest American cities.
The automotive executives who are spending shareholder monies trying to invent this madness, have completely lost their minds. They should go back to developing regular, reliable vehicles instead. Give me a Chevy Suburban, Traverse or Silverado -- some of my favorite vehicles of all time -- not a smelly and dangerous collectivist subway car on wheels.
Whether General Motors (GM) or any other company involved in developing these driverless pods, I think it will have a very negative impact on the return on investment, and by extension, the stock price. Pull the plug on this already!
Disclosure: I am/we are short TSLA.
Additional disclosure: At the time of submitting this article for publication, the author was short TSLA. However, positions can change at any time. The author regularly attends press conferences, new vehicle launches and equivalent, hosted by most major automakers.