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Uber launches robotaxi service in Las Vegas

Yahoo Finance's Allie Garfinkle discusses Uber's robotaxi service and the outlook for autonomous vehicles.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: Well, Uber and Motional are announcing the launch of a public robotaxi service starting today in Las Vegas. For the first time ever, public Uber riders can now hail a fully autonomous ride. We've got Yahoo Finance's Allie Garfinkle on this story there. Allie, I mean, how significant is this development, and what kind of demand are we talking about?

ALLIE GARFINKLE: It's pretty significant, Akiko. And it's worth saying that in terms of demand, that how this actually works is kind of a game of chance a little bit, because that was my first question. How on Earth does this work? The answer is you actually go to your Uber app, you go ask for an Uber X or a comfort electric. And it might match you, if you're in Las Vegas, with an autonomous vehicle.

Now there is a backup driver still. The goal is eventually that there won't be. But the gist is, you go on the app, you will have to opt in. They won't just give you an autonomous vehicle you didn't ask for. And then they-- and then you can open the car door with your app. Now, they do have a history here, Akiko, which is one of the things that's kind of worth noting.

Uber, though this partnership with Motional officially dates back to October, they have a 10-year commercial partnership in place. Actually, they've-- actually, Motional is-- Motional has been working with Uber for some time. And Uber's efforts in autonomous vehicles actually date back to about 2015. That said, it hasn't exactly been a straight line for them.

It's worth saying in 2018, an Uber test vehicle was actually involved in what's believed to be the first death attributed to self-driving technology. So it hasn't been a straight line there. Also, they had this autonomous unit that they sold to Aurora a couple of years ago. They've been messing around with autonomous vehicles for a long time, but founder Travis Kalanick kind of led that charge. And the current CEO has also talked about it as being really important to the company.

So my take right now, Akiko, is they're all in. If you're in Vegas, there is going to be a safety driver if you want to take an autonomous ride. And look for plans to expand. They've said they want to expand here to Los Angeles.

AKIKO FUJITA: But Allie, with that said, Waymo has kind of been ahead of the game when you compare them to where Uber is. They've been offering these types of taxi services to the Phoenix airport. They've already got a trial going here in Los Angeles. I mean, how does Uber stack up against that in terms of the competition?

ALLIE GARFINKLE: We'll have to see, Akiko. I think that there is probably-- it is probably disadvantageous for Uber if they can't necessarily guarantee you're going to get an Uber ride. They declined to tell me exactly how many autonomous Motional vehicles are going to be on the road in Vegas. So we'll have to see. I think that's one of those time will tell things, but there's no question that Waymo has a leg up.