GOOGLE SPINOFF TO TEST TRULY DRIVER­LESS CARS IN CAL­I­FOR­NIA

Apple Magazine - - Summary -

The ro­botic car com­pany cre­ated by Google is poised to at­tempt a ma­jor tech­no­log­i­cal leap in Cal­i­for­nia, where its ve­hi­cles will hit the roads with­out a hu­man on hand to take con­trol in emer­gen­cies.

The reg­u­la­tory ap­proval an­nounced this week al­lows Waymo’s driver­less cars to cruise through Cal­i­for­nia at speeds up to 65 miles per hour.

The self-driv­ing cars have trav­eled mil­lions of miles on the state’s roads since Waymo be­gan as a se­cre­tive project within Google nearly a decade ago. But a backup driver had been re­quired to be be­hind the wheel un­til new reg­u­la­tions in April set the stage for the tran­si­tion to true au­ton­omy.

Waymo is the first among dozens of com­pa­nies test­ing self-driv­ing cars in Cal­i­for­nia to per­suade state reg­u­la­tors its tech­nol­ogy is safe enough to per­mit them on the roads with­out a safety driver in them. An en­gi­neer still must mon­i­tor the fully au­ton­o­mous cars from a re­mote lo­ca­tion and be able to steer and stop the ve­hi­cles if some­thing goes wrong.

Cal­i­for­nia, how­ever, won’t be the first state to have Waymo’s fully au­ton­o­mous cars on its streets. Waymo has been giv­ing rides to a group of vol­un­teer pas­sen­gers in Ari­zona in driver­less cars since last year. It has pledged to de­ploy its fleet of fully au­ton­o­mous vans in Ari­zona in a ride-hail­ing ser­vice open to all com­ers in the Phoenix area by the end of this year.

But Cal­i­for­nia has a much larger pop­u­la­tion and far more con­ges­tion than Ari­zona, mak­ing it even more chal­leng­ing place for ro­botic cars to get around.

Waymo is mov­ing into its next phase in Cal­i­for­nia cau­tiously. To start, the fully au­ton­o­mous cars will only give rides to Waymo’s em­ploy­ees and con­fine their routes to roads in its home town of Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia, and four neigh­bor­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley cities — Sun­ny­vale, Los Al­tos, Los Al­tos Hills, and Palo Alto.

If all goes well, Waymo will then seek vol­un­teers who want to be trans­ported in fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, sim­i­lar to its early rider pro­gram in Ari­zona . That then could lead to a ride­hail­ing ser­vice like the one Waymo en­vi­sions in Ari­zona.

But Waymo’s crit­ics are not con­vinced there is enough ev­i­dence that the fully au­ton­o­mous

cars can be trusted to be driv­ing through neigh­bor­hoods with­out hu­mans be­hind the wheel.

“This will al­low Waymo to test its ro­botic cars us­ing peo­ple as hu­man guinea pigs,” said John Simp­son, pri­vacy and tech­nol­ogy project di­rec­tor for Con­sumer Watch­dog, a group that has re­peat­edly raised doubts about the safety of self-driv­ing cars.

Those con­cerns es­ca­lated in March af­ter fa­tal col­li­sion in­volv­ing a self-driv­ing car be­ing tested by the lead­ing ride-hail­ing ser­vice, Uber. In that in­ci­dent, an Uber self-driv­ing car with a hu­man safety driver struck and killed a pedes­trian cross­ing a dark­ened street in a Phoenix suburb.

Waymo’s cars with safety driv­ers have been in­volved in dozens of ac­ci­dents in Cal­i­for­nia, but those have mostly been mi­nor fender ben­ders at low speeds.

All told, Waymo says its self-driv­ing cars have col­lec­tively logged more than 10 mil­lion miles in 25 cities in a hand­ful of states while in au­ton­o­mous mode, al­though most of those trips have oc­curred with safety driv­ers.

Waymo con­tends its ro­botic ve­hi­cles will save lives be­cause so many crashes are caused by hu­man mo­torists who are in­tox­i­cated, dis­tracted or just bad driv­ers.

“If a Waymo ve­hi­cle comes across a sit­u­a­tion it doesn’t un­der­stand, it does what any good driver would do: comes to a safe stop un­til it does un­der­stand how to pro­ceed,” the com­pany said.

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