Almost everyone I know has a horror story involving a taxi driver. In Beijing, where I live and work, the smoggy city’s notorious traffic jams elevates these encounters to a whole new different level. I have lost count of the number of times drivers complained to me about their lives, about high taxes and low pay, about the traffic, about nightmare customers. About them queuing up at the airport for three hours only to pick up a passenger going to a nearby destination. The list goes on. When the drivers do not talk, you worry that they are nodding off at the tail end of an exhausting 12- to 16-hour shift and end up chatting them up instead. Then there are the scary ones who ask personal questions and tease you. Last year, two highly publicised passenger deaths involving private-car hire drivers rocked public confidence. Who’s winning the self-driving car race? So what if taxis can drive themselves and the computers-on-wheels just focus on getting you from point A to B safely, without intrusive conversations that you did not ask for? In Las Vegas, I caught a glimpse of that future. Lyft, the ride-hailing company, was offering self-driving car rides to and from the various venues for the annual CES tech show. I booked a ride on the last day as the show wound down. I was secretly worried that the self-driving car would break down en route and leave me stranded, and worse, late for some event on my non-stop schedule of interviews, briefings, product demos and networking events. US lawmakers make final push to win approval of self-driving car bill A black BMW fitted with sensors and a roof-mounted radar pulled up soon after I placed the ride order via the smartphone app. I was ready for my estimated 30-minute ride from the Luxor casino hotel to the other end of the Strip. As far as navigation goes, this experiment isn’t that demanding as it’s basically a straight route down Las Vegas Boulevard. Even though it’s a self-driving car, two employees from Aptiv, the firm providing the self-driving technology, were on hand to make sure that the machine was operating as it should. Right after the car left the pickup area, our safety driver, Cisco, let go the steering wheel and let the car drive itself. We were able to cruise along close to the speed limit of 30 to 45 miles per hour much of the way. David, the other Aptiv staff, showed us what the car “sees” through its sensors and how it interprets traffic lights, pedestrians, vehicles and lane markings. Ours was one of a fleet of 30 self-driving BMWs that have been operating along the Strip for 20 to 22 hours a day. We were told that Lyft has offered over 30,000 autonomous rides since the launch of its trial service in Vegas in May. During CES alone, more than 2,000 autonomous rides have been logged. Ford to test self-driving cars in Beijing in a tie-up with Baidu Not everything is perfect yet, of course. The braking could have been smoother in some cases, and there were two times when Cisco had to take over the driving to prevent abrupt stops. I was told that the car once mistook a bag of trash for a small animal and stopped. And if the car missed a turn due to traffic conditions, the programming would take the car right back to the same point to repeat the attempt. A human driver would most likely have taken the next turn or another route. In China, too, self-driving public transport is on the horizon. Didi Chuxing, the country’s largest ride-hailing platform, has been testing a fleet of more than 40 autonomous cars and announced a tie-up with Volkswagen last year to co-develop the technology. Most of the big tech companies have self-driving initiatives of one form or another. Can China seize car market leadership if connectivity, not combustion, is key? So would I miss the human taxi driver when the day comes that robotaxis are the norm? I guess I might miss the interesting conversations I’ve had abroad, like the debate in Vegas with a Lyft driver whether Five Guys, Shake Shack or In & Out had the best burgers. But back at home in Beijing, all I want to do is to be left alone.