Here at Motoring Weekly, we have been following the progress of several autonomous vehicle service providers of which Waymo is one. The reason is that for several years now, Waymo has been quietly getting on with the job and not concentrating on self promotion as Uber, Otto and others have done.
Last month (December 2018), Waymo launched a service called “Waymo One” and is the culmination of years of trials and recent pilot projects. 400 people had participated in the pilot programs and can now use a fully commercial service in Phoenix and some of the surrounding suburbs. The service will use many of the Chrysler Pacifica minivans that Waymo purchased and the company is being tight-lipped about the price of a journey in one of their robotaxis. They were quoted as saying that the rider would get an estimate of the cost before they confirmed that they wanted to use the service.
As with the pilot programs, there will be a human “safety driver” present in the vehicle to act in an emergency or to protect against rogue drivers – there have been cases of pedestrians or other drivers targeting autonomous vehicles to damage them! It is unclear at this stage how long these safety drivers will be needed. At Motoring Weekly, we would suggest that they will be there until the vehicles start to blend into the traffic environment and they are not noticed anymore. The drivers would then presumably work in new suburbs where the vehicles are not known.
As can be imagined with a news story like this one, there have been quite a lot of comments from concerned residents or from people who believe that the system would not work. There is a reason why this service is only available in a few areas of Phoenix – it is to continue to record data and have the systems make decisions on that data in a controlled space and it would be interesting to see the volumes of traffic that the vehicles have to deal with on a daily basis.
There have been many reports and comments online about how terrible it is that Waymo and others are using “human guinea pigs” to develop their systems. This is laughable at best, because every technology uses humans to test, evaluate and ultimately update the systems in use. Cars, especially, have been using humans as guinea pigs for over 100 years – and every new piece of technology has been tested on race tracks and roads using humans. If we had the amount of NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) today back in the 1890s, we would not have the level of personal transportation we do today!
It is inevitable that some US cities will have fully commercial robotaxi services coming on stream – when your city suburbs are connected by wide freeways and wide straight roads, these services can operate quite efficiently. With help from local Government, it might be possible for these services to be the only traffic to run on certain roads at certain times and could possibly replace public transportation all together.
Waymo have the jump on their rivals and it will be an interesting year ahead as the others try to catch up and Governments grapple with the whole concept.
Image source: Waymo.