As Google and Uber Eye Driverless Taxis, Who’s Not in the Driver’s Seat?

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Google Self-Driving Autonomous Car

There is a lot of talk about the latest Google vs. Uber self-driving taxi news, and it’s exciting to see more than one brand make a serious run at autonomous driving—and even map technology—from a geek standpoint. 

While Google is downplaying the speculation, if we suppose for a moment that Uber (which just opened a center for self-driving cars with Carnegie Mellon) and Google (which has a ten-year headstart in the space) do achieve the goal and enter the driverless ride-sharing market at the same time, which brand seems more suited to telling a cogent story?[more]

Google Uber Self-Driving Cars

Hard to say, but there are few things to consider.

Google has been whacking away at the tough problems that surround driverless technology for a decade. Its autonomous cars are already on the road (with human assistance if need be). The brand promise is based on making information more accessible and useful, and one mature part of their offering is Google Maps, which is nearly ubiquitous. They can float balloons for Wi-Fi in remote areas, invest in spurring rockets—almost anything as long as it starts with data and information being made more accessible.

Uber is the leading ride-sharing company in the world. Its growth has been dizzying and there was very little barrier to becoming trusted for its service. There have been some hiccups, to be sure, including privacy and safety concerns. The heart of the experience is the driver, she or he is the face of Uber to us. The app needs to work, but once you know that a driver is on the way, it becomes a human-to-human interaction.

We don’t expect a human element to the Google experience. Not that people aren’t there, building great things, making partnerships, making our lives easier in many ways—it’s just that the human interface is not the primary conduit for my Google experience.

But with Uber, I do expect to interact with a human—it’s central to the brand. I wonder who the driver will be from reading their names in the app. I hope their car is nice, and maybe even that they are interesting, if I am going a long distance. I have met interesting people who are Uber partners (drivers), and that “credit” goes to Uber. I trust Uber has vetted and chosen the driver I will have.

With Google, however, I am happy to find my own way with their tools. With Uber, a driverless car is an Uberless experience. 

Uber is leveraging data and creating mapping technology, and if it’s useful, we will start to get the idea that Uber is more than a way to connect a driver to a passenger.

Uber can certainly guide people to develop a new relationship with their brand, and Google has invested in Uber, which could mean cooperation.

In any case, it will be exciting to see what happens next in this extremely competitive space.

—Bob is a writer and works with world-changing brands every day. Follow him on Twitter: @bobbyob and on Instagram: @bobbyobnyc

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