Waymo, formerly known as Google’s self-driving car is launching autonomous minivans with no human drivers. The company has been operating the robotic minivans on public roads in Arizona since mid-October.
Waymo, owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company had introduced vehicles requiring no safety drivers at all. CEO John Krafcik, at a tech conference in Lisbon held on Tuesday, announced that the company had been testing the vehicle on Public roads with no humans on the driver seat.
The Google sibling Waymo, had been testing its driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona since October 19th. Arizona was the perfect testing site for the service as the state implies no restrictions on self-driving cars. Chandler’s local government when informed about the driverless cars had been very welcoming towards the experiment and obviously the fame that came with it.
“Waymo’s work here in Chandler is groundbreaking as they work toward their goal of fully autonomous vehicles,” stated Jay Tibshraeny, Chandler’s Mayor. “At the same time, this research and development taking place in our community will ultimately make our roads safer and provide new freedom for those unable to drive.”
Rival companies had already been using the autonomous cars with a driver present behind the wheel ready to take over in case of any emergency. However, Waymo marks a major step forward in the field by presenting the very first fully autonomous car and acquiring a lead on competitors like Uber, Delphi, General Motors, Intel, Lyft, Apple and Tesla.
In his statement, Krafcik also listed some of the advantages his vehicles have over opponents. “This is the most advanced vehicle we’ve developed to date,” he said. “Everything in it is designed and built for full autonomy. Our combination of powerful sensors gives our vehicles a 360-degree view of the world. The laser can see objects in three dimensions, up to 300 meters away. We also have short range lasers that stay focused close-up to the side of the vehicle. Our radars can see underneath and around vehicles, tracking moving objects usually hidden from the human eye.”
The company announced that the service will be available to the public within the next few months. Initially, the passengers will be accompanied by a Waymo employee in the back seat but after a period of time, passengers will travel alone in the self-driving minivans.
The company spun off from Google in 2016 and has been aggressively testing its cars on public roads since then. It has access to Google’s machine engineering talent and therefore is a strong competitor to companies with decades of car-building experience.
Waymo is not entirely alone in this project but with partners involved like Fiat-Chrysler, Lyft and Avis. It is progressively working on its own sensors and hardware to lessen dependence on suppliers.
The service will first be available to people who are already a part of the company’s public trial already under way in Phoenix. Waymo will not be charging for the rides in the beginning however, the company expects to begin charging eventually.
“Because we see so much potential in shared mobility, the first way people will get to experience Waymo’s fully self-driving technology will be as a driverless service,” said Waymo’s chief executive John Krafcik as he announced at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon.
“To have a vehicle on public roads without a person at the wheel, we’ve built some unique safety features into this minivan. Our system runs thousands of checks on itself every second. With these checks, our systems can instantly diagnose any problems and pull over or come to a safe stop if needed,” said Krafcik.
The Alphabet owned company has so far tested its technology in six U.S. states, with Michigan being the latest. The company is considered as the pioneer of self-driving tech having more than eight years of testing under its belt, starting off as Google’s self-driving car research project under its moonshot division, X.
The next step for Waymo is probably a big one that is making its place as a commercial ride-hailing service letting customers hail a ride via an app (like Uber and Lyft).
Back in January, Krafcik unveiled a set of in-house developed driving hardware including an improved vision system, enhanced radar and laser-based lidar technology.
Waymo had seen lawsuits with Uber, after accusing Anthony Levandowski, a former engineer at Google for stealing over 14,000 documents from Alphabet and trading them to Uber. Levandowski, left Google to start his own company ‘Otto’ that was later acquired by Uber.
An analyst firm, Edison Investment Research compiled some driving statics and concluded that Waymo ‘s technology was 5,000 times better than Uber’s, which was ranked the worst out of six major self-driving car companies testing its vehicles. The data showed that Uber’s technology was unimpressive requiring a human to take over after every mile driven. Waymo’s technology faced similar crisis once every 5,128 miles driven but the company had worked hard on the complications in the last six months and successfully achieved the state to carry out driver-free operations.
The company has emerged as a huge problem solver for customers as well as the government by eradicating issues like drunk, careless, distracted or tired driving. It definitely promises a safe and comfortable transportation system for the future.
“People will get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles, to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, or run errands,” said Krafcik. He further said that Waymo was exploring several other applications for its technology like personal use vehicles, transportation, trucking and logistics.