Autonomous is an Enormous Technology

Autonomous is an enormous technology, says Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Following the unfortunate accident that happened last year in Arizona, Uber took a retreat from autonomous vehicles. However, Uber has taken that time to rebuild how they are building that product.

“It will bring huge strides in safety, and huge strides in making transportation available to more people around the world,” says Khosrowshahi. “Anytime you have a technology that is as earth-shaking as autonomous, it doesn’t come easy.”

Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber, discusses their short-term retreat from autonomous vehicles and the growth and profitability of Uber going forward in an interview on CNBC at Davos 2019:

Autonomous is an Enormous Technology

We certainly took a retreat (from autonomous vehicles) based on the accident that happened that last year. We took that opportunity to really rebuild how we built product. But I do think that autonomous is an enormous technology. It will bring huge strides in safety, and huge strides in making transportation available to more people around the world. Anytime you have a technology that is as earth-shaking as autonomous, it doesn’t come easy.

If there’s one thing that Uber is about it’s about innovation risk. I don’t think it’s a have-to, it’s we want to be at the forefront. We want to be at the forefront of building out autonomous technology in a live network. We don’t need to build it for every single circumstance. We don’t need to build it for bad weather. We don’t need to build it for if they’re accidents, etc. We can build autonomous and launch it for simple situations one step at a time.

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I think that the timeline (of launching autonomous) has proven to be more difficult than we thought. I think that regulation is going to play a big part in that introduction. I do think that because we run a live network the problem that we’re solving for us is going to be simpler than than anyone else. We are completely open to partnering with third-party autonomous because ultimately we believe in the technology. We want to be a part of it. It’s a great opportunity, but ultimately we think this will be good for society.

We Want to Build Sustainable Profitable Growth

What we want to build is sustainable growth that can be profitable. Sometimes near-term, for example, if you look at one of our largest and fastest growing businesses UberEats, home delivery of food. It delivers from over 200,000 restaurants in under 30 minutes. It’s a magical experience.

We have had cities in which the Eats product has become profitable. but essentially once we saw that program working we’re accelerating city launches and early cities early on are unprofitable. But we know that the model is sustainably profitable over a long period of time. So we think about near-term growth with long term profits.

Growth Now in Concert with City Regulators

I think that one area that we can control is making sure that our growth is now in concert with regulators the cities in which we operate. I think that in the past, and to some extent was a strength, but it’s not something that is sustainable, we grew just purely based on consumer demand.

We didn’t necessarily take the time to have a dialogue with society, with regulators, and with cities as to growth that serves all of the constituencies. We’re having that dialogue now. It sometimes causes complexity in our model and sometimes causes us to pause, but it creates a lasting model.

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What’s special about Uber is we’re part of life in the cities. Were a huge labor force etc., so we have got to take that time and have that dialogue. In the majority of municipalities, their goal is to improve life for their citizens and life with Uber, life with UberEats, life with Jump Bikes is better. It’s really a question of how we can achieve our goals but be respectful of some of the limits that they put on us.

This Isn’t About Privacy, These Are People’s Lives

What was happening was that my teams and operating teams, the folks on the ground in Mexico, in Brazil, and in the US, they all came to me and said, “Listen with the numbers getting this big and with our platform getting as large we have to take responsibility for the platform.” I’ve got to give credit to my operators. This wasn’t like the moral CEO coming down.

This isn’t about privacy, these are people’s lives. We’ve got to invest in safety even if it causes short-term pain and growth. We came together as a team and we’re building technology, we’re making sure that the background checks, etc., all of that is being done. We have a 911 button just in case something happens. There’s a whole host of activity going into safety and it came from the team.

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