Self-driving industry takes to the highway after robotaxi failure

The sector is experiencing “autonomous disillusionment”, says Prescott Watson, principal at Maniv Mobility, an early-stage venture capital firm. Now, “the pitch is, ‘robotaxis are a pipe dream’, but let’s take this technology to do something more lucrative,” he adds.

Investors are still interested in autonomy but the focus has shifted towards practical services such as grocery delivery, automated warehouse robots, and autonomous functions restricted to highways.

Self-driving aspirations were transformed when Uber disrupted the taxi market with astonishing speed, launching in 100 cities by early 2013 — just four years after launch. Consumers loved ride-hailing, but the likes of Uber and Lyft were not profitable. This offered driverless cars a prospective business model: Get rid of the driver, it was assumed, and you would have a cash machine on wheels that could operate in just about any city in the world.