This Week in the Future of Cars: Sharing Spaces
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This week, we learned the future of the car is not owning one—at least not if Uber gets its way. The ride-hailing giant came out with twin announcements: On Monday, it said it would acquire the bike-share company Jump, in a deal worth $200 million. On Wednesday, it announced a move into car-sharing and public transit ticketing, too, inking deals with the startup Getaround and the British mobile payments company Masabi. The goal: Making it much, much easier to live car-free, and maybe take a few UberX rides along the way.
Meanwhile, Airstream rolled out an adorable and very practical new trailer that is, perhaps, too small to share with too many honies, and the Silicon Valley–based lidar startup Luminar shared its newest tech with transportation editor Alex Davies.
Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week
The National Transportation Safety Board has officially removed Tesla from its investigation into a fatal Autopilot crash, alleging the carmaker violated an agreement with the government panel by releasing data on the incident. Tesla, because it’s Tesla, hit back: “It’s been clear in our conversations with the NTSB that they’re more concerned with press headlines than actually promoting safety,” it said in a statement. Senior writer Jack Stewart puts the fight in context—this is not the first NTSB v. Tesla showdown, and it’s about way more than sharing data.
Uber acquires the bike-sharing company Jump Bikes. The company isn’t new—it’s been around and running programs in cities since 2011—but its newer, sleeker, electric-pedal-assist bicycle threatened ride-hail’s shorter trips by offering a faster, cheaper alternative. One $200 million purchase later, Uber has neutralized the threat. If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em.
Bikes are just the beginning: Uber announced Wednesday it’s getting into even more forms of mobility, by allowing San Francisco users to rent cars through its app, and eventually helping customers across the globe buy public transit tickets there, too. I write that it’s all part of a grand pivot. Now that the company sees it won’t own the ride-hailing business, it might as well make it easier for urbanites to get rid of their personal cars and keep them in its app as much as possible.
Jack had the tough job this week of checking out Airstream’s new Nest, its smaller, petite-r, impeccably designed, $45,900 trailer. Compared to the $139,900 Classic, it’s a steal!
Jack spilt the tea (and then didn’t spill the tea) while testing out Clearmotion’s fancy new suspension, which smooths the ride over rough potholes. Why fix crumbling roads when you can turn your car into the equivalent of a hovercraft?
Defense contractor Raytheon rolls out new low-power radar tech that could help officials track low-flying drones—and, as contributing writer Eric Adams points out, flying cars.
Alex gets the lowdown on startup Luminar’s newest lidar, an extra-powerful sensor that can “see” farther, for cheaper, and is now rolling into serious production.
I tackle why self-driving cars will never be “finished”. Like most software-enabled products, they’ll be updated constantly, and perfection will elude them.
Porsche lets its engineers ignore all the rules that make cars legal for driving on the street, or even the race track, and the result is the 919 Evo—a hybrid that beat Lewis Hamilton’s Formula 1 record at Belgium’s famed Spa-Francorchamps racetrack. Jack breaks down the engineering of this new wonderbeast.
Robo-Fearing Ballad of the Week
Perhaps the greatest expression of autonomous-truck-related paranoia yet: a country song about a trucker losing his job to a robot. We would point out to Dave, the trucker in this tale, that it’s far from a foregone conclusion that self-driving trucking tech will kill jobs. The Teamsters have proven pretty good at holding up federal regulations on testing the tech, too. As for getting your sweet Georgia girlfriend stolen by a robot—you’ll have to talk to the Westworld people about that one.
News from elsewhere on the internet
This week was an Uber-palooza! It unveiled a new version of its driver app, with added transparency and a touch of gamification. Will the update totally heal the ride-hail company’s fraught relationship with drivers? Maybe not. The company also rolled out a slew of new safety features, including more frequent driver background checks and a way for riders to call 911 from within the app.
In Seattle, the city council resolved to consider raising Uber and Lyft fares to ensure drivers are paid more. In Philadelphia, a district court judge ruled that UberBLACK drivers are independent contractors and not Uber employees. He wrote that he was the first federal judge to rule on the issue of ride-hailing apps and labor classification.
East Asian ride-hail company Grab’s CEO does that Tusken Raider thing where they lift their spears and hoot in victory re: Uber’s exit from the region.
Tesla plans to start production on the Model Y, a smaller, more affordable crossover, in November 2019. Because everyone knows the best time to start a new project is when you’re desperately behind on whatever you’re doing at the moment.
The Volkswagen board, frustrated with the pace of change at the German carmaker, ousted CEO Matthias Müller in favor of Herbert Diess, who previously headed up the VW brand. Diess is known for his aggressive restructuring tactics; he has long been called “Mr. Cost Killer.”
Fiat Chrysler, accused of illegally using software to game emissions standards on more than 100,000 American diesel vehicles, is close to a settlement with the Department of Justice and the California Air Resources Board.
Because I know you were waiting for it: Here’s the transportation angle on Monday’s FBI raid of Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.
In the Rearview
Essential stories from WIRED’s canon
Way back in 2014, when the sharing economy was still new, WIRED’s Jason Tanz took a close look at how Silicon Valley convinced us all to give up our privacy and propriety and trust the strangers.