Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

New Patents Hint That Amazon and Google Each Have Plans to Compete with Uber

The tech giants both want a slice of the ride-hailer’s automated taxi and trucking vision, and they have their own ideas to prove it.

Uber appears to be leading the charge to develop autonomous taxis and delivery vehicles. But a pair of patents show that tech giants like Amazon and Google have no intention of being left behind.

Both patents were only recently published, but both were originally filed in 2015. That means that although Uber has been making headlines for many of its innovations over the past 12 months, other companies haven’t necessarily been slouching.

While Google is already trialing a small ride-sharing service in San Francisco, one of the new patents describes how it plans to pair self-driving vehicles with ride-hailing apps. The problem it tries to overcome: how to negotiate a pickup location if an autonomous car can’t safely or accurately navigate to the passenger like a human driver could.

Alphabet’s autonomous car division, Waymo, is now targeting commercial applications of its technology by working with automakers, which means it no longer plans to build its own vehicles. But the company does plan to start trials of robotic Chrysler Pacifica taxis this year.

In doing so, it will be squaring up directly with Uber, which is testing autonomous taxis in Pittsburgh (along with a brief experiment in San Francisco that got shut down). Waymo may even make use of the technology described in the Google patent to help the test along.

Meanwhile, a patent filed by Amazon describes a way for autonomous vehicles to cope with reversible lanes, where traffic flow changes direction based on demand. It’s a road management trick used to optimize relatively narrow roadways, but it could confuse self-driving vehicles if they weren’t somehow aware of the changes.

Amazon's solution to the problem isn’t as interesting as what it means for the company itself. Some rumors have swirled in the past that the e-tailer has been working on its own self-driving vehicle plans. Such a direction would certainly dovetail nicely with its overarching vision, to take on more of its own delivery logistics. The new patent adds weight to the speculation.

But again, Amazon would be competing with Uber. The ride-hailing company has been backing autonomous 18-wheelers originally developed by Otto, and also has plans to do for trucking what it did for taxis, by introducing surge charging to freight.

Uber, then, has publicly embraced self-driving vehicles heavily, making it appear to be at the forefront of the race to automate the ferrying of goods and people. But it looks like it may yet have some serious competition to shrug off in the longer term.  

(Read more: The Guardian, The Verge, “What to Know Before You Get In a Self-Driving Car,” “Uber and Amazon Want to Muscle In on the Shipping Industry,” “Alphabet Sets Up a New Company to Commercialize Autonomous Car Technology”)

Keep up with the latest in autonomous vehicles at EmTech Digital.
Don't be left behind.

March 25-26, 2019
San Francisco, CA

Register now
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.