English Conversation about Driverless Cars - Robo Taxis - Flying Vehicles

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Ever daydream about the future and what kind of technology will improve our lives? In this Advanced English Native Speaker conversation, we discuss the future of cars. Specifically, we talk about Robo taxis, driverless cars, and flying vehicles.

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Feel free to follow along with the transcript of this conversation.

Mary Daphne: [00:00:00] Hello, advanced English learners. Welcome back to another native English speaker conversation. I'm joined today by the one and only Greg. We're gonna have a conversation today that I think you're gonna enjoy. I hope you'll enjoy. The reason we do these conversations is predominantly for you to have.

Mary Daphne: English comprehension practice exposure to how native English speakers speak. Also, working on your conversation skills, your communication skills more broadly, working on your prosody, your intonation, the stress patterns, and so on and so forth. Not to mention vocab acquisition. So today's topic is all about robo taxis.

Mary Daphne: Ooh, all right. Let's get into it.

Mary Daphne: Greg, so why don't you tell us a little bit about what the Robo Taxi is? What is a Robo taxi? I think a lot of people can probably guess, but I'd like for you to share your opinion. 

Greg: Sure. Robo [00:01:00] Taxi. I love that name cuz it sounds like it's straight outta the Jetsons. 

Mary Daphne: Yes. 

Greg: Which is this futuristic cartoon from our childhood and probably our parents' childhood 

Mary Daphne: probably. Yeah.

Greg: So what are Robo taxis? Robo Taxis? Robo is short for robot. There was a movie that came out in the nineties with Arnold Schwartzenegger called Robo Cup. 

Mary Daphne: Oh, 

Greg: And so robo just means it's short for robot. So it's this old school term for robo, for robot. Taxi. We all know what taxis are.

Greg: So it's a robo taxi. It's a robot taxi. 

Mary Daphne: So does that include a driver or no driver? 

Greg: That's the key distinction here is that a robo taxi in its ultimate form has no driver. 

Mary Daphne: So it's a driverless vehicle.

Greg: It's a driverless vehicle. It's a driverless taxi. And what's interesting is, this point about driverless?

Mary Daphne: Yes. 

Greg: Because if you think about it, our cars are already kind of robots, right? They do a lot of things automatically that we don't even [00:02:00] realize are taking place. 

Mary Daphne: That's the thing, you bring up that good word automatic. Automatic means it's not manual, meaning a human doesn't manually do something.

Mary Daphne: It's an automatic response action from the mechanism from the machine. aka robot. 

Greg: That's right. So when I think of a robot, I think of a robot as this sort of combination of different automated actions that the machine takes. So the more automated it becomes, the more robotic it becomes in my mind.

Mary Daphne: Yes. 

Greg: And so that's why I'm saying that Robo taxis technically from my perspective, exist on a spectrum. 

Mary Daphne: Okay. 

Greg: And a spectrum you have on the one end. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: Something that's completely manual. That's basically a bicycle, right? A bicycle is you're pedaling. You're steering completely.

Greg: Yeah. Everything's controlled by you. On the other end of the spectrum, you have a robo taxi, which is, you literally open the door, you sit down inside the vehicle, you [00:03:00] close the door, and it drives you to wherever you're going without you even needing to tell it where you're going. 

Mary Daphne: So we start to see this already in futuristic films and series, like one of the ones that we watched recently was Westworld on hbo. And they show the town. There's a futuristic town and , people get around in driverless vehicles and there's just passenger seats. So there's not even a section in the front with a steering wheel. It's just passenger seats. 

Greg: That's right. And so going back to the spectrum, where we are at the currently is we're not at that robax side of things.

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: But we're also not in a horse and cart. And this is an important distinction to make because we're actually getting quite a bit closer to the robataxi side of things faster than I think people realize. Yeah. When you get into a car now, particularly a car manufactured in 2020 or later, it's gonna have a lot of automatic robotic features, 

Mary Daphne: features,

Greg: steering assist, right?. So it's gonna keep you within your lane. Detection from the cars in front of you. So if it thinks [00:04:00] you're gonna collide with the car in front of you, it's gonna automatically stop for you or slow down for you.

Mary Daphne: Navigation is another one, right? 

Greg: Navigation. A lot of cars now including Tesla. Yeah. Have actual automated navigation in there now, so you can plug in where you're going and on certain roading conditions, it will actually navigate the car for you. Yeah. Which is pretty cool. But we're still not at that point where you can actually just get into a car and it drives for you unless you're lucky enough to live in a few specific locations where they are piloting true, fully blown robo taxis.

Mary Daphne: And so when they're piloting it, they're testing it out, it's like a pre-launch in a way. 

Greg: Very much 

Mary Daphne: so they're piloting it, meaning testing it out, and then 

Greg: a beta. 

Mary Daphne: Exactly a beta test and then receiving feedback from the study, so to speak. Or you can also call it a pilot study.

Mary Daphne: And then incorporating all that feedback into the next version after the [00:05:00] beta test

Greg: which presumably will address a larger or serve a larger population 

Mary Daphne: right and to resolve the bugs and all of that before it reaches a wider mass. So Uber and Lyft are now, not doing their own driverless vehicles, but they are starting to roll out these taxi.

Mary Daphne: Robo taxi 

Greg: Yes. And no 

Mary Daphne: services. 

Greg: So they are probably the two that had pioneered it. Or at least their business model was predicated on automated drivers eventually taking over. Because it's expensive to have an actual person driving a car. That's why cabs cost money is because you're paying for someone to spend their precious time driving you around.

Greg: It sounds a little luxurious when you say it that way, right? 

Mary Daphne: It's like a chauffeur. 

Greg: It's a chauffeur. Exactly. So when you can automate that and the car can drive itself, you take out a large chunk of the cost of the taxi service. And so that's why Uber and Lyft were so gung-ho of this driverless future. [00:06:00] Unfortunately, it turns out it's really hard to automate a car, to automate the driving process. And it's not because it's hard for the car to stay on the road, it's because the road is predominantly occupied by humans

Mary Daphne: and human drivers. 

Greg: And human drivers.

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: And humans and human drivers are very unpredictable and they'll do things that we really shouldn't be doing. 

Mary Daphne: Like jaywalking, so walking when there's not a crosswalk, 

Greg: no crosswalk or they're, maybe they're walking in front of a green light when only cars should be driving. And the cars themselves. Maybe they're merging lanes when they shouldn't be merging lanes. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. Maybe they're texting, which is big no-no. 

Greg: They're texting, maybe they're speeding, whatever.

Greg: The point is, humans do random things and robots don't like random things. Robots follow the rules. Whatever the rules are, 

Mary Daphne: robots are systematic.

Greg: By definition, robots don't do random things unless you specifically program them to do random things. 

Mary Daphne: Exactly.

Greg: So the point here is it's very hard to do. And so Uber and Lyft tried, they [00:07:00] actually didn't end up succeeding and they ended up selling their sort of robax arms off to other companies. And so now that actually the industry leader in robo taxis happens to be Google or Alphabet. So Alphabet has a division an exploratory division that's dedicated to driverless cars and specifically robo taxis.

Greg: And so they have pilots, I think in Phoenix. They might even be piloting something in San Francisco or it's a competitor called GM Cruise. GM General Motors, which is a huge car manufacturer, right? They have a subdivision they purchased called Cruise. cruise.ai maybe. But the point is Cruise is another competitor and they have a Robo taxi service that they're piloting as well.

Mary Daphne: So when do you think robo taxis will actually be something that we can all use? 

Greg: Oh gosh, that's, that is like the million dollar question, right? 

Mary Daphne: That's why I'm asking . 

Greg: Yeah. [00:08:00] Everyone wants to know, and people have been predicting it for years. Yeah. So if you went back to 2000. The estimate you would've gotten is 2015. If you're in 2015, the estimate would've been oh, 2020, we're now 2022. 

Mary Daphne: Almost 23. 

Greg: Almost 23. It's true. Yeah. And the estimate is of like 2025, six, maybe seven. Right now it feels like it's just a few years away, but it's been just a few years away for a long time. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. So maybe closer to 2035, 

Greg: I think reasonably speaking based on the progress of technology which is exponential, right? Our AI models, our machine learning models, which are the sort of software behind the Robo taxi technology.. It's the guiding systems. It's the ability to handle random, unpredictable events. It's the ability to learn from the environment and, programmatically, monotonically improve. That whole process is getting better and better. And so the speed at which we improve is [00:09:00] accelerating. So right now it still feels far off, but this is a long winded way of saying my guess is probably by 2030, we will have widespread robo taxi services. 

Mary Daphne: Now we also talk about air taxis. So I wonder what's gonna actually come into the fold sooner if it's going to be automated vehicles, meaning on land driving or if we're gonna have, not space travel per se, but air travel. So flying basically.

Greg: Flying personal vehicles. 

Mary Daphne: Flying personal. Yes. That's a mouthful. Flying personal vehicles. Exactly. 

Greg: Yeah. 

Mary Daphne: What do you think? 

Greg: Now we're really talking Jetsons because that the classic intro to the Jackson The Jetsons 

Mary Daphne: meet George Jetson. 

Greg: Yeah, exactly. They're literally flying around in their own personal vehicles. 

Mary Daphne: Oh my gosh. That was my favorite, cartoon as a little kid. 

Greg: I remember in the early nineties, I was in second grade. I remember drawing a coloring book for [00:10:00] school and the scene, 

Mary Daphne: like the image. Like a coloring? 

Greg: No. It's like it's, I had a coloring book 

Greg: 'Oh, okay. 

Greg: in which there was a scene. 

Mary Daphne: Sure. Okay.

Greg: Depicting flying cars and it said the year 2000. 

Mary Daphne: Oh, funny. 

Greg: So back then, that's when we thought that would happen. 

Mary Daphne: Y2k. 

Greg: Y2k. So nowadays everyone's like flying cars. Yeah. Forget about it. In fact, there's, I think there's like a, basically a colloquial line that says, Yeah, that'll happen as soon as we get flying cars.

Mary Daphne: Okay. 

Greg: Right, which is basically saying it'll never happen. Turns out it will happen. We have that technology now we have vehicles that can operate autonomously.

Mary Daphne: Yes. 

Greg: And they're really cool. They're electric powered

Mary Daphne: Right.

Greg: So they're way more quiet than airplanes. They're small, so they can fit one or two people so they can go in all different directions. They have multiple props propellers on them, which means there's a lot of redundant systems making them a lot safer than a helicopter. 

Mary Daphne: Okay. I was gonna ask that. How safe are they? Because helicopters, we hear all sorts of things, but helicopters being not that safe. 

Greg: Yeah. Well, helicopters are still a lot [00:11:00] safer than driving. They don't . Don't feel safe. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: Because they're in the air. 

Mary Daphne: Being airborne, there's something about being airborne that I think makes a lot of people nervous, 

Greg: Yeah totally. But statistically speaking, driving actually is one of the most dangerous things we can do.

Mary Daphne: It's true.

Greg: Which is why I'm looking forward to robots driving us because they'll take the human error out of it.

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: And hopefully make driving a lot safer. But the, Okay, so flying cars, One would assume that if robo taxis on the ground driving cars are five, seven years off, then you'd assume flying cars are twice that. 

Mary Daphne: Yes. 

Greg: What's interesting is that's not necessarily the case.

Mary Daphne: Okay.

Greg: Because in the air you don't have all of the obstacles that you have on the ground, right?

Greg: You have three dimensional space to work with, so there's a lot more room. To wiggle and there aren't, trees and dividers and pedestrians that you're gonna collide with. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah, that's true. 

Greg: So the real challenge in the air is just simply getting regulatory approval. Because the air is very much a regulated space.

Greg: You don't want things flying into buildings and so [00:12:00] forth. You also don't want pieces of cars falling off and hitting people 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: On the ground. But ultimately from a technical perspective, you could argue that the air travel is actually less complicated than ground travel, at least the way our infrastructure's currently configured. And so there is a chance and it's call me hopeful and optimistic. There is a chance though, that air taxis automated, air taxis actually come to market and a mass scale sooner than ground taxis. And you can already see, airlines like United and Delta making real investments.

Greg: We're talking tens of millions of dollars into air taxi services. They're thinking like instead of taking a cab to the airport, you're taking an air taxi to the airport. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: So it's for short sort of small flights. 

Mary Daphne: Maybe domestic travel. Within the country that you're in. So that's an interesting place to, I think wrap up because, we don't really know when these types of transportation methods are going to come into the fold.

Mary Daphne: [00:13:00] But I think I'm aligning with what you're saying, Greg, because I think there are fewer obstacles in the airspace for maybe something like this to actually start working. And I just think that for humans to feel comfortable with it, I think that might also take a little bit of time. So we might actually see driverless vehicles in operation sooner just because of that...

Greg: cause it feels more, 

Mary Daphne: Exactly. It feels 

Greg: like something we're used to. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. But, I would be interested in trying either I think if it's safe and , tested enough then I would be curious to do it, especially if it's, environmentally friendly. As they are supposed to be electric vehicles.

Greg: Yeah, that's a very reasonable perspective to take and I think most people feel that way. Let's just wait until we're sure it's safe. As an early adopter myself, I'm more willing probably than most to take the first leap. But that's mostly because I just see it as such an enhancement to our lives. Think about not needing to live in the city, right? 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. 

Greg: You [00:14:00] can live out in the suburbs way outside the city and just take an air taxi and not have to worry about traffic. So you get the best of both worlds.

Greg: You get the countryside and then you can go into the city within just, a half hour without any traffic. 

Mary Daphne: And that's a very manageable commute. And you get a nice podcast going or a book cuz you don't even have to be driving, right? You can be just relaxing, sleeping, take a nap, whatever.

Greg: But we dream. We dream 

Mary Daphne: We do. Yeah. We're futurists, I think. 

Greg: Yes. we'll see when it actually happens. Let's let's hold ourselves accountable in a couple years. We can go back and look at this video and see how accurate our predictions were. 

Mary Daphne: I'm curious to hear from you. What do you think? First of all, would you hop into a driverless vehicle? Would you do an air taxi type of thing? What would you feel comfortable doing? Do you think there's another mode of transportation that we're not even thinking about? 

Greg: Underwater,

Mary Daphne: underwater. Yeah. Who knows? Could be. I We do have submarines, right?

Greg: Elon Musk is building , the boring company, which is literally a tunneling company. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. right? That's true. I mean that, it will, I think that will be useful one day. 

Greg: Sure. 

Mary Daphne: We'll [00:15:00] see. All right, so let us know what you think. Really curious to hear your thoughts. Don't forget to complete the worksheet after listening to this, or maybe while listening to this to test your listening comprehension and to make sure that you're getting the gist of the conversation.

Mary Daphne: So as a reminder, I send those out only through our newsletter, so make sure that you're subscribed to our 100% free newsletter that you can get on advancedenglish.co. You'll just get the popup that says, Would you like this? Or you can just scroll down and you'll see Join mailing list, and you can just type in your email there.

Mary Daphne: So we don't send out any spam. I'm not a spam fan. Greg's not a spam fan, so no spam for us. Just good solid quality content. All right. Thank you so much for joining us. We will see you very soon. Bye for now.


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1) True

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4) True

5) False

6) True

7) False

8) True

9) True

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11) True

12) True

13) False

14) True