Sooner Than We Thought? Waymo Already Has Fully-Self Driving Cars On The Road
Just a few weeks ago, our class had some discussions about the testing by Waymo in Phoenix, AZ. I was somebody who doubted that they would 1. Be allowed to test without a designated pilot within the year and 2. Would actually launch the program before the end of 2017. It appears that Alphabet’s Waymo is already on the streets. It’s important to note that they have not yet begun public usage. In other terms, nobody outside of the Waymo bubble has had the chance to be chauffeured around by the first legitimately driverless cars on the road. Nevertheless, it is really exciting to see concrete progress being made in the realm of self-driving cars.
This service is going to be an Uber-like taxi service where people will be able to order rides on their phones. The only difference is that there will be no other human in the car. From what I’ve seen, the car being used for the service is a retro-fitted Chrysler minivan. Users will sit in the middle row of the car, so nobody is in the front seat or has access to the steering wheel. Behind the two front seats of the car are small displays that visualize the car’s understanding of the environment. This is primarily to allow humans to get an understanding of how the software and hardware are working. Waymo hopes that this will give the riders more trust in the car’s ability to understand the outside world.
As a driver from Phoenix, I can testify that the roads all around the city are perfect. Almost every day is sunny and clear, and ice will never make its way onto the roads. The grid system is easy to navigate, so driving is very simple and straightforward. I was spoiled by that experience, as I now only drive in New Jersey and Massachussetes where the circumstances are never close to ideal. I almost see Phoenix as a base case for self-driving cars. It’s a very concrete proof of concept. However, if the cars run perfectly in Arizona, that doesn’t mean they are ready to be unleashed everywhere.
Waymo plans to roll out the service to the entire Phoenix area, but is currently confined to small parts of the city. According to Ars Techinica, Waymo is planning on replicating this roll-out style in the rest of the country when they have a large enough fleet of cars. The success of this operation is critical to the public’s perception of self-driving cars. This is the first time that regular people will be piloted in cars with no human at the steering wheel. While other companies like Uber, Lyft, Tesla, and Volvo are trying to catch up, they all better be hoping that Waymo succeeds.