Waymo Goes Driverless

With self-driving cars already being tested in cities across the United States and in several parts of the world, there have been three big questions about how quickly self-driving cars would expand:

  1. How quickly will the geofences around the (usually urban) test areas expand?
  2. When will companies open their services to the general public?
  3. How soon will companies pull the test driver from the vehicle?

Waymo just went ahead and answered #3. In a blog post and accompanying video (above), Waymo just announced that they have pulled the driver out of the seat on a subset of their test vehicles in the Phoenix, Arizona, metro area.

This looks like the latest step in a campaign by Waymo to both step forward in their self-driving efforts, and reassure the public that everything will be okay. And it looks like everything will be okay.

To that end, Waymo has invited reporters to their previously top-secret Castle test facility, and published a 43-page online safety brochure, alongside a slew of Medium posts.

A few thoughts of my own to accompany the Waymo announcement:

  1. This is awesome, and it has the potential to be huge if Waymo continues to roll this out to the rest of their test fleet in a timely manner.
  2. Waymo doesn’t say it, but I have to believe that, for now, they have test engineers near the driverless vehicles. They might be in trailing vehicles or at some sort of central command point to which the driverless vehicles are geofenced. I wouldn’t want an accident to happen (even an accident that’s not Waymo’s fault) and have civilian passengers be the first ones to talk with police and the press.
  3. As I understand it, these rides are carrying civilian, non-Waymo employees, but they’re also pre-screened for the program. The next step for Waymo will be what Uber has already done in Pittsburgh: open the program up to anybody who downloads the app.

It’s an exciting time for self-driving cars 😀

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