No Hands

Waymo recently invited a group of journalists, including TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington, on a tour of their Castle testing facility for self-driving cars. (“Castle” was the name of the Air Force base that occupied the site before Waymo took over,)

Etherington wrote three posts based on the visit, all of which are worth reading.

“Building the best possible driver inside Waymo’s Castle” is short and sets the stage for the next two posts, although this first post doesn’t really break any new ground for those of us who’ve read about Castle already.

“Structured Testing sounds kind of complicated but it’s actually explained in the name — Waymo sets up (structures) tests using its self-driving vehicles (the latest generation Chrysler Pacifica-based test car in the examples we saw), as well as things they call “fauxes” (pronounced “foxes” by [Stephanie Villegas, Waymo’s Structured Testing Lead]. These are other cars, pedestrians, cyclists and other variables (contractors working for Waymo) who replicate the real world conditions that Waymo is trying to test for. The team runs these tests over and over, “as many times as we can where we’re still seeing improvement” per Villegas — and each time the conditions will vary slightly since it’s real-world testing with actual human beings.”

“Taking a truly driverless ride in Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica” covers Etherington’s first ride in a vehicle that literally had nobody in the driver’s seat. California recently legalized this type of testing on public roads, and although I haven’t see anybody do it on actual public streets yet, I had figured Waymo must have been doing this at Castle. Now we know.

“I’ve done a lot of self-driving vehicle demos, including in Waymo’s own previous-generation Lexus test vehicles, so I wasn’t apprehensive about being ferried around in Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivan to begin with. But the experience still took me by surprise, in terms of just how freeing it was once it became apparent that the car was handling shit all on its own, and would continue to do so safely regardless of what else was going on around it.”

“Waymo focuses on user experience, considers next steps” provides the best look I’ve seen inside of Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans. The emphasis is on the seatback monitors that communicate to riders what the virtual driver system is “thinking”.

““It’s really key for riders to focus their attention on the critical elements for a given situation,” [Waymo UX leader Ryan Powell] says, explaining why they’ve chosen to exclude some visual elements, and to do things like place flashing highlights on any emergency service vehicles picked up by the Waymo sensor suite.”

The kicker?

“When asked directly for a timeline on a public service launch, Waymo CEO John Krafcik declined to even claim a specific year, but he did say it’s probably going to happen sooner than many would believe.”

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