Google's sister firm Waymo is about to begin its first commercial self driving car service. The service will be offered in Phoenix, Ariz., where the company has already been offering limited rides as part of a test program, according to The Information. It is believed the service will operate without a human driver for backup, although some vehicles could have drivers for longer trips, or places Waymo has yet to map. Alphabet executives Larry Page and Sergey Brin have allegedly been aggressive about autonomous ridehailing, according to the report, and wanted to launch a service as far back as last year. Waymo engineers are said to have talked management into accepting a'mixed' fleet instead.
Waymo is ready for a dramatic next step after eight years of preparation, most of it as the Google Self-Driving Car project. The Alphabet Inc. unit has begun testing autonomous vehicles on public roads without human safety drivers at the wheel, and early next year will make its robotic chauffeurs available to Phoenix-area commuters. Speaking at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said on Tuesday that company technicians are already hailing its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in and around Phoenix via a mobile app and leaving it to the artificial intelligence operating the vehicles to figure out how to get to requested destinations. Within a few months, Waymo vans loaded with laser LiDAR, radar, cameras, computers, AI and no human safety drivers will pick up Arizonans registered in its "Early Riders" program. People will get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, or run errands," Krafcik said.
Self-driving cars have come a long way from being a sci-fi fantasy, with the likes of Google, Uber and Tesla all establishing a stake in the race to bring them to the road. But as autonomous vehicles have become more commonplace, so has criticism around a lack of safety in the technology. Uber, Google and Tesla have all exhibited elements of'recklessness' in their development of autonomous vehicles, as shown by the slew of accidents that have recently occurred, according to Gizmodo. Crashes involving self-driving cars have led to injuries and, in some cases, even death. And often, the autonomous vehicles escape the blame for the incident - instead, it has fallen on the human test drivers who were supposed to be watching the road.
Uber's self-driving cars were 400 times worse than Waymo before the fatal Arizona crash, according to a leaked internal report. The firm's cars were unable to reach 13 miles (21km) without human intervention, while cars made by the Google subsidiary Waymo could drive 5,600 miles (9,000km). According to a 100-page company document, Uber was also struggling to meet various other safety goals in the weeks before the crash. For instance, the cars were having trouble driving through construction zones and next to tall vehicles. The CEO of Google's Waymo has since said that the recent death of a pedestrian in an accident involving an autonomous Uber car would not have occurred with his company's technology.
Waymo is still struggling to teach its self driving cars basic driving manoeuvres as it prepares to launch its self driving taxi service. 'The Waymo vans have trouble with many unprotected left turns and with merging into heavy traffic in the Phoenix area, especially on highways,' according to The Information, which says the cars have a'Zoolander' problem similar to the Ben Stiller character in the hit film, who struggled to turn left on a catwalk. It also says the vans'don't understand basic road features, such as metered red and green lights that regulate the pace of cars merging onto freeways.' The Information's story cites five unnamed sources with direct knowledge of issues Waymo has encountered during the pilot program. One Twitter user recently captured the van on video struggling to join a highway.