Travis Kalanick says Uber needs self-driving cars to avoid ending up like the taxi industry


travis kalanick

Paul Sakluma/AP

Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick believes that Uber needs to work on self-driving cars, lest it end up like the taxi industry that it's currently disrupting.

"That Uber, a five-year-old company has the potential to be disrupted if we don't do this right, is super fascinating," he said on stage at The Wall Street Journal's WSJDLive conference.

In the last year, Uber has poached more than 40 autonomous vehicle experts from the robotics program at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as top car security researchers.


This move comes at a time when the likes of Google, Apple, and Tesla are all working on some sort of autonomous-driving projects. Kalanick says he believes Google to be the farthest ahead, but that we're still a while away from seeing any company's self-driving cars on the roads.

"Getting Google's cars to a 90% solution is going to happen soon," he said, but he asks, "when do they get to that 99.99% success level?" By his count, it could be five, 10, even 15 years.

"It's going to be interesting, ultimately, to see how cities handle these disruption waves, which are going to be coming faster and faster," he said. "Some cities are going to allow it, and then they're going to be the bastion of the future, and the other cities are going to look like they're in the middle ages."


Although he didn't give any specifics about whether Uber envisions itself building its own car or working with partners, he believes that self-driving cars are going to be "in the world that exists tomorrow," no matter what.

"Are we going to be part of the future?" he asked. "Or are we going to resist the future, like that taxi industry before us? For us, we're a tech company, so we've said, let's be part of that. It's a super exciting place to be."