What Are Robotaxis? (EXPLAINED)

Hyundai Robotaxi, a driverless car based on the IONIQ 5 showcased at the IAA Mobility 2021 motor show in Munich-min

Robotaxis are still relatively uncommon in most of the world. However, China and some parts of the USA have already adopted them. But, especially in Silicon Valley in San Francisco, it’s not uncommon to find one of them.

The technology behind robotaxis is quite impressive, and people have dreamed of it since Total Recall was released in 1990. But what exactly are robotaxis?

Robotaxis are self-driving vehicles that are operated by ridesharing companies or taxi organizations. They are also called robo-taxis, driverless taxis, or self-driving taxis. They use advanced artificial intelligence to make dynamic decisions based on traffic conditions.

What Are Robotaxis?

On the device screen application for ordering a Autonomous taxi

To understand what a robotaxi is, we can start by looking at the two parts of the word: “robo” and “taxi.”

Robotaxis Are Autonomous Vehicles

The first part of the word, “robo,” indicates something robotic. Robotaxis are basically robots, but not in the anime or Hollywood sense. According to TechCrunch, one definition of a robot is an automated machine that can perform certain functions with little or no human intervention. By this definition, robotaxis can be classified as robots.

Self-driving cars are becoming commonplace, with even some big names, like Tesla, building the functionality into their cars to be activated if it is approved in a particular region. So, the first thing that a robotaxi is is a type of car with the necessary programming and artificial intelligence to drive by itself and keep its passengers safe.

Robotaxis Are Ridesharing Vehicles

Ridesharing is a massive trend these days, but the concept originated decades ago with taxis. Robotaxis are a new type of taxi, which means you pay a predetermined amount for the car to drive you to a specified destination. But instead of a driver sitting in the car with you, it’s just you and the car’s artificial intelligence. So it’s ideal for introverts and people too busy to chit-chat.

How Does Robotaxis Work?

self-driving vehicle performing robotaxis  tests on the city streets

A self-driving car requires exceptionally advanced technology. Then some more tech must be added to turn it into a robotaxi. There are two different aspects; each requires its own hardware and software. Let’s look at the two aspects of robotaxis in more detail.

Self-Driving Car Technology

All modern cars come with tons of automatic sensors these days. They can detect all kinds of problems with the car, like mechanical failure, low oil, or even low tire pressure. The sensors send signals to the car’s computer box (electronic control unit or ECU). This is programmed to perform certain functions automatically, even if it only shows a warning to the driver.

Robotaxis and other self-driving cars need the exact same sensors since they are still cars, and the same problems can occur. But this time, the sensor cannot simply show a warning light to the driver because there isn’t a driver. So, instead, the sensors must feed the information directly to the car’s AI so that the programming may determine how best to deal with the situation.

But self-driving cars also require additional sensors. Think of it as it truly is – the car’s AI is replacing the driver. As human drivers have sensors (senses) to determine where and how to drive, the self-driving car must replace these aspects with its own sensors. A lack of sensors could lead to car accidents and various other problems.

Companies like LeddarTech manufacture sensor kits specifically with the robotaxi market in mind, but its sensors are used in all kinds of self-driving cars, not just robotaxis. These sensors, called LiDAR modules, create a 360-degree cocoon of visibility around the robotaxi, allowing it to observe obstacles and threats like pedestrians, animals, objects on the road, and even curbs or other cars.

If this information is communicated to the self-driving AI effectively, the car can avoid obstacles and threats by swerving away, reducing speed, accelerating, or stopping altogether. 

The AI must take the data that comes from the sensors and, based on calculations that involve variables like speed, angle, size, and direction. That’s also the number one point of failure, but more on that later.

Ridesharing Technology

Autonomous smart car scans the road operates the machine automatically stops at the crosswalk in the city

Ridesharing technology is much more mature than self-driving technology. It requires no (or very little) AI interaction, and the tech has been around in some shape or form for decades.

Traditional taxi services implemented them using a telephone call to book a ride. In addition, two-way radios are used to communicate with the drivers, and a meter calculates the final fee the taxi driver would charge.

Modern ridesharing is much more advanced because of how technology has matured. Instead of making a phone call, you have an app where you specify where you want to go and where you are to be collected.

The app then calculates a cost estimate based on the distance traveled. Once you accept an offer, the driver is notified to collect you. Payment is automated through a credit card.

Robotaxis have adopted this same system, with a few slight differences. You also use an app where you can request a ride and receive a quote, then automatically make payment when you accept the quote if your credit card is linked with the app. But instead of a driver receiving the message and confirming their availability, an algorithm determines which robotaxi must come and pick you up.

So, the ridesharing part of a robotaxi’s technology isn’t truly groundbreaking, but it works. Most of the system is based on technology that’s been around for many years. Only the parts where it integrates with the AI and the algorithm to determine which car to send are new technologies.

The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Robotaxis

autonomous car driving on road and sensing systems driverless car

As is the case with any new or emerging technology, a robotaxi has its pros and cons, and it’s good for you to be aware of them before using a robotaxi service.

Advantages Of Robotaxis

Robotaxis Are Economical

Robotaxis are usually fully electric vehicles customized to accommodate only two passengers. This makes them economical to run and manufacture. It is still (marginally) cheaper to charge an electric car than to fill up an older car with gasoline. Hence, the running costs are lower, and the robotaxi operators can let that benefit filter through to you, the customer.

The fact that most robotaxis are built to take only two passengers significantly saves manufacturing and running costs. We can also add the fact no human drivers operate the robotaxis. This will lower the prices even more. In fact, many experts estimate that it might be cheaper to ride robotaxis than to own a car by 2030.

Robotaxis Are Reliable

For the most part, when everything’s running as it should, robotaxis are more reliable than human-operated taxis. This is because the code was created to make the taxi operate in a specific way, which means that the technology is predictable. You can therefore rely on it to work the way it should.

Robotaxis Offer A Peaceful Ride

After hairdressers and barbers, taxi drivers are the next notorious group of people who often insist on being chatty. Of course, some of us are fine with that; we may even welcome it. But many people aren’t chatty. 

You may have to do urgent work or make a phone call when riding in a taxi. In these situations, having a talkative taxi driver could be frustrating.

Driving around in a robotaxi is the epitome of a peaceful ride. You don’t have a talkative driver; you can spend your time on a phone call or working on your laptop without feeling like you’re ignoring someone.

In fact, people who have used a robotaxi are generally impressed with the ride. But, of course, this is after getting over the initial concern about a robot driving them around.

Robotaxis Have Far Better Operating Hours

Taxi drivers are human; like everyone, they require breaks and sleep. This means that taxi companies must employ lots of people, and you may not always be able to get a taxi that’s available near you. Robotaxis have none of these problems. You can quickly get a robotaxi in the middle of the night or any other time you need it.

Robotaxis Are Less Prone To Accidents (In Theory)

Theoretically, robotaxis are less prone to accidents. That’s because they don’t get tired or distracted. They’re not susceptible to road rage or speeding. They have none of the human failures that many of us struggle with, and those are the same failures that cause so many road accidents. When everything is working perfectly, robotaxis are much safer than other taxis or ridesharing options.

Robotaxis Are Generally Safer

Many people’s concerns about taxis and ridesharing services (particularly in regions with lots of criminal activity) are nearly non-existent with robotaxis. In addition, ridesharing services like Bolt and Uber now offer female- and children-only rides for those concerned about their safety alone in the car with a stranger. 

Robotaxis eliminates the need for a driver. Therefore, Robotaxis are generally safer for anyone traveling alone who might be concerned under normal circumstances with a driver they do not know.

Disadvantages Of Robotaxis

Robotaxis Lead To Loss Of Jobs

As with any emerging technology, there is concern over the number of people that will end up unemployed because the taxi industry is going to change so much. Where taxi driving used to be a relatively easy way to find employment in big cities, many drivers may now become unemployed.

Robotaxis Are Computers, And Computers Are Prone To Failure

We all know the jokes that are going around about operating systems failing and software programs being released riddled with bugs. Since a robotaxi is basically a fast-moving pile of metal and chemicals operated by code, there is some justifiable concern about how safe it is to use them.

Robotaxi manufacturers put in much more effort to ensure all bugs are sorted out. After all, unlike a PC crash, in this case, there are actual lives at stake.

But it’s not impossible for some bugs to still filter through and cause unexpected behavior. After all, robotaxi accidents happen, and people get injured. They don’t happen often, but it’s not impossible, either.

Hacker Attacks Are A Risk

In the case of robotaxis, poor cybersecurity can put passengers’ lives at risk. For example, suppose a hacker finds a vulnerability in the code used to operate a robotaxi. In that case, they might be able to take control of the taxis and wreak all kinds of havoc. So, naturally, this causes fear of terrorist attacks and the like.

Of course, the software developers are aware of the risks and do what they can to avoid this. Still, it’s probably only a question of time before a robotaxi or self-driven car gets hacked with disastrous consequences, similar to what happened to a ridesharing platform in Russia.

Conclusion

Robotaxis, or self-driving ridesharing services, are emerging and looking to become a highly profitable industry in the next few years.

Though not all aspects of robotaxis are positive, the fact is that the technology is overwhelmingly good and set to mature nicely. We may live slightly closer to the utopian future of science fiction movies in only a few years.

Table of Contents
    Add a header to begin generating the table of contents
    Scroll to Top