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Business Management

Uber a step closer to ditching the sharing economy

There’s no shortage of companies working on self-driving cars, from technology companies such as Apple or Google to automobile manufacturers such as Daimler and Tesla. That’s to be expected; AI cars ride the expertise of both technology companies and auto manufacturers. But what happens when a company that owns no cars and is famed for democratizing the taxi industry wants in?

Uber announced last year it was partnering with Carnegie Mellon University  - and more recently the University of Arizona - to work on self-driving car technology, and recently decided to just poach the 50 CMU scientists working on the project to help speed things along. Only last week Uber’s outbound Vice President of Mobile Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen told The Memo that autonomous automobiles is “where Uber is really putting all its efforts, passion drive and momentum behind something.”

These are pretty big statements. Uber’s claim to fame is that it became a world-disrupting taxi-summoning Unicorn despite the fact it doesn’t own a single car or employ any drivers. In five or ten years it could own a fleet of thousands of cars, all riding along without a driver and sending the profits straight to Travis Kalanickand and co.  The Uber CEO hasn’t been shy in admitting that he wants his company to make this shift, and isn’t apologetic about it. “Look, this is the way the world is going,” he said during last year’s Code Conference. “The world isn’t always great.” He later tweeted “Driverless car is a multi-decade transition. Let’s take a breath and I'll see you in the year 2035.”

It’s perfectly reasonable from a business perspective, but what does it say about the strength or longevity of the “sharing economy” when the most successful child – the one everyone is trying to be the “Uber for X” of - is ditching the business model and people it built its fortune on at the soonest viable opportunity?

The biggest surprise is that despite Uber’s habit of inciting protests from the incumbents it’s been disrupting, there don’t seem to be any murmurs of discontent from its fleets of currently human drivers. 

The sharing economy might be great in principle; people are in control of their own destiny, companies can benefit without owning a single car/hotel/whatever it is you are trying to Uber-ise, but outside of Uber and AirBnB, how many of these sharing economy apps have really taken off or really disrupted their chosen industry? I say not many, if any at a meaningful scale. And once Uber bails, there’ll just be AirBnB left.

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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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