Waymo testing self-driving cars without backup drivers

I’m just not sure what to think about this yet. Waymo, Google’s self-driving car development arm is testing autonomous cars, without having any backup drivers inside the vehicles.  They are testing the fleet on public roads and within the next few months, will include passengers. This means cars that drive without any human intervention.

With this latest development of Waymo ditching humans in their cars, they seem to be ahead of other companies developing autonomous vehicles. None of them have tested vehicles on public roads without a driver available to take over in case of emergency. It’s a show of Waymo’s advancement over other companies, like Uber, who are racing to develop such vehicles.

According to Waymo’s chief John Krafcik, “Our ultimate goal is to bring our fully self-driving technology to more cities in the U.S. and around the world. Fully self-driving cars are here.”

I’m just not sure what to think about this yet.

Waymo is testing these self-driving cars without backup humans in a limited area around Phoenix, which is where it has been testing their programs thus far. However, according to their blog, “Over time, we’ll cover a region that’s larger than the size of Greater London…”

There are a few unknowns about the tests being conducted, which will surely come to light soon. Are these cars being testing on environmentally and physically challenging roads, such as bridges and tunnels, wet or icy roads, or night driving? Although wet weather is not usually a problem for Phoenix, a successful driverless car would need to overcome such hurdles.

Why shouldn’t we be scared to death of autonomous cars without backup drivers?

Apparently, Waymo doesn’t share our human instinct for the need to be in control of a situation. Their attitude is to let computers take care of it. To bolster our confidence in the cars, Waymo has included backup systems should the main computer fail – like a secondary computer that can take over the driving responsibilities. And, for right now, Waymo employees are sitting in the back of these autonomous vehicles to monitor their performance.

Plans for the cars are that once passengers join in the tests, there will be a button in the vehicle that will enable them to immediately contact Waymo staff, in the case of a malfunction or a car crash. And, if there is a crash, the cars are programmed to pull off the road.

I’m still not sure what I think about this yet.

How will Waymo use these human-less self-driving cars?

Waymo wants to use these human-less self-driving cars first as ride-hailing taxis, and then perhaps as an adjunct to other forms of public transportation.

Other benefits, according to Krafcik, are that “…you could choose from an entire fleet of vehicle options that are tailored to each trip you want to make.” So, if you want a large van for a family camping trip, a limo for a fancy event, or simply want a car used as a rental, you’ll be able to have your driverless, human-less choice

I’m still not sure what I think about this yet.


Group Matrix Blog – November 12, 2017 - By Sharon Bowles



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