Last week we discussed the various levels of autonomous driving. People often wonder what the very first application of autonomous driving will be. The consensus amongst analysts is that an L4 robotaxi is likely to be the first mainstream totally autonomous vehicle.
As a reminder, L4 autonomy means the vehicle is fully autonomous but only within a pre-defined or geo fenced area and under certain weather conditions. This is ideal for a fully autonomous or robotic taxi. Most taxi services do something like 90% of their pickups and drop offs within a 50-mile radius. The typical trip might be to an airport, train station or within a metropolitan area like NY or San Francisco. This works extremely well for autonomous driving because the service area can be very well mapped out, down to very small details and hence the likelihood of the vehicle making a mistake is greatly reduced.
Indeed, many companies are working on robotaxi services here in the US and abroad. Both Uber and Lyft have partnerships to offer driverless service in certain areas. I can imagine some of the first services being around airports ferrying passengers from the various terminals to nearby airport hotels. Or even simple short trips within a major city that are not very profitable if a human is driving but perfectly suited for an autonomous robotaxi.