The team at Waymo have gone through a lot of effort over the past years to take up the cudgels for self-driving technology. As reported in a recent article, Waymo has now reached over 10 million miles of testing on public roads at several states across the U.S., like California, Michigan, Georgia, Washington and Texas. Members of chosen communities or companies have been invited to engage in an Early Rider program, where one of the sites is Phoenix, Arizona, in which it has been active since April 2017. Now, Waymo feels confident to expand into an actual business model similar to those of Uber and Lyft, where chosen members of the Early Rider program (since they already have experience riding with autonomous cars) get the opportunity to order a vehicle in their app and pay for the ride. Waymo One, as the program is called, will operate in the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and Gilbert, a combined area of some 100 square miles, according to Dan Chu, head of product at Waymo.
Waymo has been working closely with customers, to continuously evaluate and adjust their technique to operate safely and manage all possible situations. According to a somewhat experienced Waymo rider from The Verge, Andrew J. Hawkins, the journeys initially “felt like being driven by your half-blind grandmother”, but the technique has been refined and now feel mostly normal, similar to those with a human driver. Still, Chu says that Waymo will continue having the possibility of human interaction at their steering wheels, and fully self-driving vehicles will be thoroughly tested within the Early Rider program before being introduced to Waymo One.
The fact that companies like Waymo are being so cautious is probably a good thing. There are huge amounts of situations that can occur in traffic and the vehicles have to be able to solve all of them. Not only by avoiding crashes, but also by making human-like decisions, such as “acting” confident to create a flow that encourages riders to continue using these services. Though the question is whether these driverless vehicles actually will become accepted amongst its users. When reading a report from Fast Company who have tested Waymo’s new service, it is obvious that there still are some flaws. For instance, during an unprotected left turn, the vehicle behaved uncertain, repeatedly accelerating and breaking even though the road was empty. All of the sudden it showed “Object detected”, like some kind of hallucination. Will this be a reoccurring problem in the long-term or not?
Written by Hampus Alfredsson, RISE Viktoria.
1. 2018-12-12. Waymo One: The next step on our self-driving journey.