Big Data – Project Proposal: Uber

By Masooma, Sindi Nexhipi, Celina Prosch and Frederik Radvan

The ongoing process of automatization determines the change of our society, as we experience the technological change in a sense that physical work of all kinds gets reduced and replaced by machines 1. There are numerous reasons for this shift, as machines e.g. usually are stronger, and more powerful than humans. They work tirelessly and reliable, as well as cost-effective. Hence, the fast developing level of technology bares not only a huge impact on agriculture or the economy in general, but affects almost every field of our living standards, due to the machines outcompeting the humans.

The company of interest for this study is UBER, which was founded in 2009 with its Headquarters in San Francisco, USA. The company provides costumers taxi services but in addition to it and unlike other companies, it offers people on-demand car service and the chance to see exactly where the driver is as they come to pick you up. The difference also stands at the way, Uber chooses its employees by holding their drivers to a high standard. During the on-boarding process, they must visit Uber’s Headquarters to pick up their “Uber Phone” and meet with a company representative. Once they start driving for the company, Uber policy requires that drivers maintain ratings above 4.7 on a 1 (low) to 5 (high) scale in order to remain with Uber. Additionally, Uber drivers use their own personal cars, however it is required that the cars are new. Another fact worth mentioning, is that Uber considers itself to be a website, so, in essence, Uber claims that it is a digital conduit that connects riders with high quality transportation, or in other words, an “eBay for rides”.

Bearing all of this in mind, it is very interesting that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced in June 2015 that he will buy all self-driving cars build by Tesla within 2020 2. The autonomous driving system, as one of the current automatization developments, is a fast-evolving trend our society has to deal with and will for sure outcompete and replace the “old way” of transport – someday. Autonomous driving implies: “the vehicle … is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.” 3, meaning it drives without any human intervention. These driverless cars have a huge impact on the automotive industry, and hence, are of great interest, especially in the future. For example, the vehicle manufacturer Volvo already tests the usage of autonomously driving trucks for long-distance transport 4.

The work of this group will concentrate on this innovative idea to apply self-driving vehicles to the public transport and will further analyze, how these autonomous vehicles affect the company and its surroundings. This decision will be a new field, where Uber would follow the current trend in which automatization is leading us. For this reason it could be and will be an outstanding opportunity for Uber to expand and what once appeared futuristic now becomes reality: vehicles transport humans in a comfortable, safe as well as self-driven manner.

There are several ideas of the group members also being included into the study e.g. utilizing blackboxes together with specific tracking systems, which would be possible investments for Uber in order to improve their idea. Using a blackbox for example can be useful for various reasons; like improving the evaluation of an accident, not only to identify the person in charge but also to analyze the cause. The analysis of such data can allow for improved algorithms included into the autonomous driving system. Not only for humans, but indeed also for machines decision making is crucial when it comes to safety. Furthermore this bares the potential to increase the overall safety in traffic situations since the analyzed data can be applied and integrated into the technology based on a network of practice-proven information. However, tracking of vehicles could not only clarify risk factors for accidents, but also knowing the route the taxi will take allows for better planning of the next route desired by the following customer, which would result in a better coordination of the vehicles in the traffic network and the availability at a certain location within the shortest amount of time of these can be optimized. This information can get adapted in databases, resulting in e.g. rankings where and when a higher demand of vehicles is located and thus yield higher efficiency of the service.

Additionally to this, a new service, which especially Uber is offering within the close future, are so-called family profiles. Smartphone devices being connected via the internet and by the Uber application allow to set specific functions such that e.g. members of a family being customers of Uber can interconnect and get informed about the family members´ or friends´ taxi drive 5. Hence, from this perspective one can judge that if Uber incorporates autonomous cars into its company and therefore also in its work environment it would be a trend-setting decision, whereby it bares lots of advantages but also threats, which this group wants to further analyze within the upcoming two months.

Group Organization:

All members of this team have come up with the following time plan and schedule to work on their project: For the first two weeks all members will be researching about the three new suggestions for Uber. Frederik and Celina will be working on autonomous driving systems: what they are, where they already got implemented into, etc. Sindi will be finding out about different tracking systems that could be coupled with the mentioned blackbox, for which Masooma will gather more data. After having collected enough information for every part of the proposal, the team members will then select useful/relevant data about every section within the next two weeks and summarize their thoughts in a written form. These thoughts include ideas about application, (dis)advantages, consequences, threats, etc. Having done that, the team members will have several meetings within the following two weeks. In the meetings all members will then discuss how the innovations can be of use to Uber, how they can be incorporated into their system in the most cost and management efficient way and what consequences this would have, not only for the company itself but also for the public. So the written thoughts get presented to the other group members. The actual writing part of the case study will start by the middle of November, when everyone will work on a certain part of the project and also proof-read others’ writings, resulting in a pre-proposal that will be further adjusted until it contains all relevant data and ideas. The last week, before submission, will be spend on checking for technical issues like grammar, punctuations and formatting of the proposal and for any possible errors that may have been overlooked before.

References:

  1. CGP Grey (2014) Humans need not apply. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU, retrieved 05.10.16
  2. Lucas Mearian (2015) Uber will buy all the self-driving cars that Tesla can build in 2020. Available at: http://www.computerworld.com/article/2945817/telematics/uber-will-buy-all-the-self-driving-cars-that-tesla-can-build-in-2020.html, retrieved 06.10.16
  3. ‘Autonomous car’ (2016) Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_car, retrieved 04.10.16
  4. Bogdan Zoltan (2016) Volvo Tests Autonomous Trucks In A Mine In Sweden. Available at: http://www.carscoops.com/2016/09/volvo-tests-autonomous-trucks-in-mine.html, retrieved 04.10.16
  5. Uber Newsroom (2016) Peace Of Mind When Your Family Is On The Go. Available at: https://newsroom.uber.com/trip-tracker/, retrieved 04.10.16
  6. Buisness Insider (2016) Uber just changed its logo. Availabe at: http://static6.businessinsider.com/image/56b1087fdd0895ec1c8b472a-3200-1800/uber-logo.png, retrieved 07.11.16

 

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6 thoughts on “Big Data – Project Proposal: Uber

  1. I feel like this is such a relevant topic, especially being in Germany and places where it is banned. It is a Big Data issue that also relates to politics!

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    1. Exactly. We as individuals can only try to inform ourselves as best as we can, because the technological progress won´t stop. Since autonomous driving systems seem to be an attractive future alternative for transport, the data used for the constructing these machines have be analyzed well and the programming needs to be prudent. Anyway, this huge technological potential applied to industry shall not interfere with social values in such a way that people feel helpless against it in their daily life.

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  2. You’re choosing a topic that is gonna become a huge issue in the future. I like that you included your work distribution. Are you also going to address the effects this development could have on the industry and beyond?

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  3. Here are a following weaknesses / threats that Uber is currently facing, that could be useful for the development of your project.

    1. The fact that Uber has access to an remarkably valuable type of data – location data – can be a source of tension and distrust. Especially because Uber’s privacy policy is very broad, and therefore, does not include detailed information on the what they do with their users’ data. Whether Uber has imposed enough limitations on what is done with the customers’ data, has been a big concern for many, given that geolocation data is incredibly sensitive: it gives a very detailed overview of where a person lives and works, and how they spend their time (free-time activities, visits to the doctor, etc.)

    This article provides more detailed information on Uber’s issue of data protection:
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2014/11/18/data-is-ubers-business-but-protecting-it-may-be-its-largest-weakness/

    2. In addition, Uber has faced a lot of legal issues as it entered heavily regulated transportation markets with their concept of matching drivers and passengers through an online platform. As of 2015, it was banned in Thailand, Japan, and some parts of India and the US, and it faces partial bans or suspended operations in many other countries, such as Germany, Spain and South Korea.

    Here you can find an overview of the regulatory battles that Uber is currently engaged in all around the world: http://www.theneweconomy.com/insight/uber-problems

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