Our Driverless Future Begins As Waymo Transitions To Robot-Only Chauffeurs

Alan Ohnsman , Forbes Staff     www.forbes.com

Waymo is ready for a dramatic next step after eight years of preparation, most of it as the Google Self-Driving Car project. The Alphabet Inc. unit has begun testing autonomous vehicles on public roads without human safety drivers at the wheel, and early next year will make its robotic chauffeurs available to Phoenix-area commuters.

Speaking at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said on Tuesday that company technicians are already hailing its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in and around Phoenix via a mobile app and leaving it to the artificial intelligence operating the vehicles to figure out how to get to requested destinations. Within a few months, Waymo vans loaded with laser LiDAR, radar, cameras, computers, AI and no human safety drivers will pick up Arizonans registered in its “Early Riders” program.

“We’re now working on making this a commercial service available to the public. 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,” Krafcik said. “Getting access will be as easy as using an app; just tap a button and Waymo will come to you, and take you where you want to go.”

Google’s push to perfect driverless cars, stretching back to 2009, ignited a tech race in the auto industry that represents the biggest change in personal transportation since horses were replaced with horseless carriages more than a century ago. But Waymo has to move fast to lock in its early-mover status as autonomous vehicle programs at dozens of companies, ranging from General Motors to BMW to Uber to Tesla to Baidu, race to catch up and commercialize their own driverless tech.

2017, Not 2020

The Alphabet company appears to be first to operate an autonomous fleet without safety drivers, a transition that keeps it ahead of fast-moving rivals, at least for now.

“We recently surveyed 3,000 adults across the United States, asking them when they expected to see self-driving vehicles – ones without a person in the driver’s seat – on their roads. The most common answer? 2020,” Krafcik said.“It’s not happening in 2020, it’s happening today.”

In the 11 months since the Google program turned into Waymo, it’s taken a methodical approach to move from R&D initiative to revenue-generating venture. Krafcik’s speech didn’t spell out when the latter begins, but at the company’s current pace Waymo is likely to start offering a paid ride service sometime in 2018. (Phoenix-area riders currently don't pay to be driven in Waymo vehicles, which arrive with company technicians sitting in the front.)

During his speech Krafcik, who spent three decades in the auto industry at companies including Hyundai Motor and Ford before going to Google in 2015, showed a video of Waymo vans operating in suburban Phoenix with no one at the wheel. It “marks the start of a new phase for Waymo and the history of this technology,” he said.

Link to full article:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanohnsman/2017/11/07/our-driverless-...

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LOL!   Thanks for posting, RSV.  Looks like the greatest challenge to full deployment will be dodging vehicles piloted by humans.  I know several human drivers that would not have been capable of getting out of the way of that truck.

Yep. Its still pretty hard to eliminate the human factor. I have seen it tried many times in my 40 years in the oilfield and it almost always comes back to bite them.

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