This week, I will discuss everything that has been disrupted besides respect for democracy and political norms. Let’s keep things civil as we examine robot beer trucks, putting a price on disaster relief, government-backed French Uber, car DRM, and gentrification through delivery.
Pricing Disaster Relief
In an example of positive disruption, gig economy firms helped victims of hurricane Matthew. Airbnb, as part of their disaster response tool, allowed hosts to provide free shelter during the hurricane. It’s unclear whether the program was successful though, as there were few listings available: were the listings sold out, or were hosts unwilling to lend their space for free? Either way, the tool was welcome due to the number of displaced victims.
Less generous was Uber’s policy, capping surge pricing “excluding the 3 highest-priced, non-emergency days of the preceding 2 months,” which makes absolutely no sense. Granted, getting drivers out in disaster conditions requires some amount of incentive, but setting a price ceiling at one’s own confusing standards does not communicate goodwill. Lyft, the ride-sharing app condemned to always be mentioned second, capped its rides at a much easier to understand twice the normal price. The impact of these services on disaster relief can’t be measured, but the mere effort suggests a model for future disasters.
Meanwhile, Uber has a new competitor in France. With the most self-aware branding ever, the French government released a taxi hailing platform called le.taxi. Of course, this platform runs up against two walls: competition from Uber, and taxi fragmentation. For example, some cabs may take credit cards while others may not. Worse, one French person told Motherboard: “I have [Uber] now on my phone, so I wouldn’t download another [app].”
Runaway Robot Beer Truck
Keeping the focus on Uber, an affiliated firm just shipped the first ever haul without a driver. Otto, acquired by Uber for $680 million in August, shipped 50,000 cans of Budweiser over 120 miles in a self-driving truck, likely to a nearby country music festival. The truck in question was a normal model with extensive upgrades, as Otto does not build trucks. This is the first step on the very long road to a driverless, and safer world.
In other car news, Tesla is still aggressively expanding in the automated car market. That alone is not new, but The Verge learned that Tesla will bar its latest ‘autopilot’ system from working on ride-sharing services. That’s right, car DRM (Digital Rights Management, a tool used to prevent sharing purchased digital goods). Uber drivers with Teslas won’t be able to share rides the way you could not share your iTunes tracks 10 years ago. Why? Because Elon Musk is creating his own ride sharing service, called the Tesla Network. While any effort to reduce consumer rights is concerning, I can’t wait to finally cut my last link to other people when getting around.
Your Disruption in 30 Minutes, or it’s free
Switching lanes to a more unique look at disruption, the Guardian has a particularly vibrant series on gentrification. While I may sound like a broken record here, I’m not the one making the news, I’m just disrupting your week.
One article in particular focuses on an often overlooked part of the gig economy: delivery services and their effects on local businesses. The loss of the local laundromat to an app-based service is obvious, but the article also mentions the death of locality: removing both places that promote social interaction and the uniqueness of specific neighborhoods. The bright side is that going out will become cool as soon as vinyl becomes dated again.
That’s it for this segment of Disrupting your Week. In further Disruption news, look out for an article about discrimination against women in gig economy firms.
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