For Google, the self driving car project was formalized in 2009 with dreams of changing how people traveled from one place to another. In 2018, Waymo launched those dreams as self driving taxis in Phoenix.
It’s hard to place boundaries on Google’s self-driving car project which is now all grown up and is a full fledge company named Waymo. To say the goal of this project was to disrupt the automobile industry falls short and they are not alone as the following list demonstrates.
- Addison Lee (UK)
- Baidu (China)
- BMW (China)
- Fiat Chrysler
- Ford (USA)
- General Motors (USA)
- Huawei (China)
- nuTonomy (China)
- Oxbotica (UK)
- Rinspeed (Swiss)
- Stagecoach Bus (UK)
- Tesla (USA)
- Toyota (Uber USA)
- Volvo (UK)
Waymo’s mission is to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around. We aim to bring fully self-driving technology to the world that can improve mobility by giving people the freedom to get around, and save thousands of lives now lost to traffic accidents.
Why is Google interested? The experts say self-driving cars will operate at a level of efficiency and safety which far exceeds the norms of today. The bar isn’t very high considering the U.S. had the highest one-year percentage increase in traffic deaths in half a century according to 2015 data released by the National Safety Council (NSC). Initial estimates reveal 35,092 people were killed on U.S. roads in 2015 and roughly 4.4 million sustained injuries resulting in medical consultations. The estimated number of police-reported crashes increased 3.8% from 6.0 to 6.3 million.
U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states the economic impact is staggering at $277 billion in actual cost and an estimated $594 billion in harm from the loss of life and the pain and decreased the quality of life due to injuries.
How do you replace the driver?
Like any driver, a self-driving car needs to constantly answer the following questions.
- Where am I?
- The software processes both map and sensor data to determine its location. Google cars know what street they are on and which lane they are in. For the most part, this works, but I am sure everyone has experienced a situation where Google Maps took a route not expected.
- What’s around me?
- Sensors help detect objects all around the car. The software classifies objects based on their size, shape, and movement pattern. It knows the difference between a cyclist and a pedestrian. It knows to be ready for unexpected surprises like a dog darting out in front of the car or a turtle crossing the road.
- What will happen next?
- The software predicts what all the objects around us might do next. It predicts the cyclist will ride by and the pedestrian will cross the street.
- What should I do?
- The software then chooses a safe speed and trajectory for the car. Our car nudges away from the cyclist, then slows down to yield to the pedestrian.
- There will always be crazy circumstances which are difficult to predict but must be dealt with. Tailgater’s come to mind or something falls from a passing truck.
It’s Not all Science
The road to fully autonomous cars is perilous. Before cars begin hitting the showroom, Google and others need to change regulations – the federal, state and local edicts that cover everything from whether cars must have steering wheels to who’s fault if a driverless car hits another vehicle.
The future of self-driving cars?
Uber has had a tough go of it. There was the Waymo v. Uber lawsuit where Waymo accused Uber of stealing trade secrets. The parties agreed to settle and the settlement gives Wayno a 0.34% slice of Uber. In March of 2018 an experimental Uber vehicle, operating in autonomous mode, struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona – the first fatal accident of its kind. For now, Uber’s modified self-driving Volvo XC90 vehicles will only be driven manually by humans and under a new set of safety standards that includes real-time monitoring of its test drivers and efforts to beef up simulation.
All Tesla vehicles including the new Model 3 have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level they claim is substantially greater than that of a human driver.
Build upon Enhanced Autopilot and order Full Self-Driving Capability on your Tesla. This doubles the number of active cameras from four to eight, enabling full self-driving in almost all circumstances, at what we believe will be a probability of safety at least twice as good as the average human driver. The system is designed to be able to conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat. For Superchargers that have automatic charge connection enabled, you will not even need to plug in your vehicle.
All you will need to do is get in and tell your car where to go. If you don’t say anything, the car will look at your calendar and take you there as the assumed destination or just home if nothing is on the calendar. Your Tesla will figure out the optimal route, navigate urban streets (even without lane markings), manage complex intersections with traffic lights, stop signs and roundabouts, and handle densely packed freeways with cars moving at high speed. When you arrive at your destination, simply step out at the entrance and your car will enter park seek mode, automatically search for a spot and park itself. A tap on your phone summons it back to you.
Waymo introduced a small-scale ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area this December which included a human behind the wheel to mitigate a robotic malfunction.
The service, dubbed Waymo One, at first will only be available to a couple hundred riders, all of whom had already been participating in a free pilot program that began in April 2017. It will be confined to a roughly 100-square-mile area in and around Phoenix, including the neighboring cities of Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert.
Waymo eventually plans to open its new ride-hailing app to all comers in the Phoenix area, although it won’t say when. It also wants to expand its service to other cities and just announced it is going to Atlanta.
General Motors also is gearing up to begin offering a ride-hailing service through its Cruise subsidiary under the management of a new CEO, Dan Ammann, who has been the Detroit automaker’s No. 2 executive. Cruise plans to start its ride-hailing service at some point next year in at least one U.S. city. Another self-driving car company, Drive.ai, has been giving short-distance rides to all comers within Frisco, Texas and Arlington, Texas since the summer.