Timothy B. Lee, one of the top journalists covering self-driving technology, just published an article in Ars Technica that asks the question, “Why hasn’t Waymo expanded its driverless service?”
Lee covers several different possibilities, from the cost of remote operations staff, to the difficulty of serving areas like Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and Arizona State University. Ultimately, he zeros in on a theory he calls, “Kyle Vogt’s Insight.”
“In 2017, Kyle Vogt—Cruise’s founder, then-CEO, and now-CTO—wrote a blog post explaining why Cruise was testing its vehicles in San Francisco.
‘Anyone who has visited San Francisco knows driving here is kind of ridiculous,’ Vogt wrote. ‘Our vehicles encounter challenging (and often absurd) situations up to 46 times more often than other places self-driving cars are tested.'”
Credit to Lee, who owns up to some early skepticism of that theory – skepticism Lee now admits may have been misplaced.
“At the time, I didn’t find Vogt’s argument very convincing. I thought that if Waymo could launch a fully driverless service in an “easy” area like suburban Phoenix, the company would gain a ton of useful experience and data that would give it a leg up in tackling more difficult areas…But now I suspect I was wrong. Maybe after millions of miles in the suburbs, Waymo has reached a performance plateau—it has mastered situations that are common in the suburbs, and it no longer sees enough new challenges to continue improving.”
The whole article is worth a read. It’s a fascinating thought exercise by one of the most informed thinkers in the industry.
To be sure, nobody outside Waymo knows why they haven’t expanded Waymo One since they launched last year. Perhaps they’re going to announce a huge expansion any day now.
But if Lee’s hypothesis is correct, then Kyle Vogt’s contrarian insight will go down as one of the canonical contrarian technology decisions – non-consensus and right – in Silicon Valley history.
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