Waymo Trials Take Humans Out Of The Driver’s Seat
By Hailey Desormeaux, AMERICAN SHIPPER
The automated car subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet Inc. started testing a fleet of self-driving vehicles on public roads in Phoenix last month without anyone behind the wheel.
Waymo, the automated car subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet Inc., started testing a fleet of self-driving vehicles on public roads in Phoenix last month without anyone in the driver’s seat, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said at the Lisbon Web Summit on Tuesday.
However, during this testing, a Waymo employee sits in the back of the car to monitor its performance, company spokesperson Johnny Luu said, according to a report from the New York Times.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based tech company is limiting the trials to a region around Phoenix, but plans to expand the testing area over time.
Like many states, Arizona does not have any restrictions against operating an autonomous vehicle without a person in the driver’s seat, while California requires that any self-driving car must have a safety driver sitting in the front, the New York Times said.
“With Waymo in the driver’s seat, we can reimagine many different types of transportation, from ride-hailing and logistics, to public transport and personal vehicles, too,” Waymo said in a blog post Tuesday. “We’ve been exploring each of these areas, with a focus on shared mobility.”
Waymo will be inviting members of the public to take trips in its fully self-driving vehicles within the next few months.
All of Waymo’s self-driving vehicles are equipped with a secondary computer that can take over if the main computer fails, bringing the vehicle to a safe stop, the company said in a safety report. The vehicles also have backup steering and braking features.
However, Consumer Watchdog, a non-partisan, non-profit public interest group, said Tuesday the company’s “robot cars” are not safe enough to be deployed on roads without drivers.
Waymo’s most recent California disengagement reports released earlier this year show the company’s technology failed 124 times in 635,868 miles, Consumer Watchdog said. Although disengagements declined from 341 in 2015 to 124 in 2016, or 0.8 per 1,000 miles compared to 0.2 per 1,000 miles, Consumer Watchdog said that “robots simply aren’t ready to be released to roam our roads without human drivers.”
The interest group expressed concern that Waymo is following Silicon Valley’s tradition of releasing software in “beta,” or test mode, and then tweaking it while it is being used. “That’s one thing, when you’re talking about Gmail and maybe losing an email or two,” Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project Director John Simpson said. “It’s the wrong approach when you’re dealing with self-driving cars. When things go wrong with a robot car, you kill people.”
While some critics still question the safety of automated driving technology, or feel uneasy with the technology simply because it is unfamiliar to them, regulatory roadblocks are also a common concern.
Although different states each having their own separate laws regarding automated vehicle technology may not be as big of a deal when it comes to shorter distance travel, such as ride sharing, public transport or use in personal vehicles, these differences in state laws could be especially challenging when it comes to implementing autonomous vehicle technology across the trucking industry, since cargo is often hauled across various states.
Other critics question just who is liable in the event of an accident with a vehicle running on autonomous vehicle technology.
However, supporters of automated vehicle technology argue the technology will boost safety on roads, since it takes human error out of the equation, and could also potentially lead to fuel savings.