Waymo takes next step with fully self-driving vehicles
After more than eight years of development, Waymo says it has taken the next step with its fully self-driving technology. It announced that its vehicles are test-driving on public roads, without anyone in the driver’s seat. In the Phoenix area, a subset of its fleet will operate in fully autonomous mode, with Waymo as the sole driver. Over time, the company says its cars will cover a region that’s larger than the size of Greater London.
The latest announcement comes two years after Waymo says that it completed the world’s first fully self-driving trip on public roads, when legally blind Steve Mahan traveled from a park to a doctor’s office without anyone in the driver’s seat.
That ride offered a glimpse into the technology that company engineers have been working on since Waymo started as a Google project in 2009. Since then, its vehicles have driven more than 3.5 million autonomous miles on public roads across 20 U.S. cities. At its private test track, company engineers have run more than 20,000 individual scenario tests, and the company says its software drives more than 10 million miles every day. Its vehicles are equipped with the safety features necessary for full autonomy including backup steering, braking, computer, and power systems.
Waymo says it is looking to reimagine transportation, from ride-hailing and logistics to public transport and personal vehicles. Its specific focus is on shared mobility rather than on personal ownership model, giving access to a fleet of vehicles so that more people will be able to experience the technology sooner. The first application of Waymo’s fully self-driving technology will be a driverless service. Participants in its early rider program will be among the first to use the vehicles.
Details of the long development road to today’s announcement was revealed in Waymo’s first Safety Report published in October. The company calls that collection of important lessons learned by its self-driving program a safety playbook developed by engineers, safety experts, product managers, and designers. Its Safety by Design approach includes the processes, techniques, and technologies of a robust testing and feedback loop that applies to hardware, software, and vehicle development.
In addition to extensive testing and validation of more than 3.5 million miles in the real world, billions of miles in simulation, and more at its private facility, the report details the redundant backups for critical safety systems such as steering, braking, backup, and compute power as well as the ability to perform thousands of real-time checks each second to diagnose any issues and safely handle faults. It provides a glimpse into adherence to an “operational design domain” that includes geographic areas, driving conditions, and road types that its system can handle safely and confidently. It also details an interface that helps riders interact with and understand what our vehicles are doing on the road, which includes a rider support system to answer trip questions.