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London taxi leader sceptical of swift autonomous vehicle takeover despite new Government laws

London's taxi representatives have poured cold water on the notion of a swift transition to Autonomous Vehicles (AV), arguing that "lawnmowers will take over long before robot cars".

Steve McNamara, General Secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), made his views clear in the TAXI Newspaper. He frequently attends conferences that may impact the livelihood of taxi drivers, but he often finds these events unproductive. Recent years have seen a surge in discussions about self-driving cars, with a recurring roster of speakers rehashing familiar themes.

McNamara suspects that many proponents of autonomous cars are influenced by vested interests, with their predictions for the technology’s takeover shifting based on their financial backers. At a recent conference, he challenged a speaker’s optimistic view of public trust in self-driving cars by comparing it to the limited uptake of robot lawnmowers, a technology available for over a decade that has yet to win widespread consumer confidence.

His comments come in the wake of the UK Government's enactment of the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act, a legislative milestone aimed at paving the way for self-driving cars to become commonplace on British roads by 2026. Announced during the King's Speech, this law authorises the use of advanced technologies to operate vehicles safely in the UK, setting the stage for the country to lead in regulating self-driving tech.

The legislation underlines the UK’s ambition to spearhead advancements in AI and self-driving technology. British companies such as Wayve and Oxa are already leading the charge, with significant trials taking place in London and Oxford. Wayve’s recent securing of over $1 billion in investment for AI development underscores the sector's vigorous expansion.

McNamara said in TAXI Newspaper: “I go to a lot of conferences and talking shops; in fact, if there is a possibility it could impact on our members' business or ability to earn a living, I try to go. It sometimes becomes clear, after scouring the agendas for these numerous events, that I am wasting my time or, more likely, that I am in for a very boring morning, afternoon or, God forbid, a full day.

“In recent years, self-driving or autonomous cars, along with EV charging, have been the subject of many of these events. There is obviously a circuit of these events around the world, where the same speakers are constantly rotated and regurgitate the same stuff.

“I suspect that many of the cheerleaders for autonomous cars are funded by vested interests. Interestingly, they seem to move their prediction dates for when we will all be out of work, replaced by technology and robots, according to what their paymasters (those who own these systems) tell them.

“I rarely ask questions. Over the years, I have realised that any answers are just taken from a standard block of responses that can be fitted to any question anywhere in the world – but, recently, I could not help myself.

“At a recent event, the rabidly pro self-driving car speaker went into a long diatribe, quoting surveys of the general public and how massive percentages of those questioned would trust self-driving technology, and are waiting for the day when they can rush out and buy a car that will drive them and their families. “Trust me,” he said, “the public want this technology; they trust it and will buy it!”

“I asked him where he lived, “California,” was his response. Did he have a house? “Yes.” Garden? “Yes.” And did he have a robot lawnmower? “No, a gardener.”

“I then asked him to account for the fact that robot lawnmowers have been around for about 10 years, were cheap, worked brilliantly, and saved hours of labour – yet the vast majority of people still buy the old- fashioned technology and cut their own grass.

“I also pointed out that a recent survey by a gardening company I had seen indicated that this was because people don’t trust robots to cut their grass. Yet there he was, telling us that, within a few years, those very same people will trust a robot to drive their kids and families around. Could he account for that?

“He obviously couldn’t because he laughed and quickly moved on with yet more fascinating (to some) predictions and projections.

“What I have learned from attending this event, and all the others, is that – despite all the headlines and general media excitement that surrounds every press release and announcement on self-driving cars – it’s far more likely that robot lawnmowers will take over long before robot cars!”


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