2017 is shaping up to be an amazing year. Not only have we begun full, public use of drone delivery, not only have we seen the release of one of the most monumental and industry changing electric cars but now Waymo has officially kicked off the Autonomous Car scene!
Way back in 2009 Google started up their special self driving car division. It made some pretty big headlines and was seen as very futuristic. Apparently the future is now though as since then Google has forked off that division to a company called Waymo.
It now operates with partners such as Lyft and other companies. They have all been working on the problem for years. They had their first autonomous drive on public roads in 2015. Since then they’ve also been testing on private tracks with actors. This is all to help get in as many edge cases as possible.
Things like people dropping boxes in the middle of the road while moving house. Drunk people wandering out into the cars path. Google even has hilarious video of someone in a motorised wheelchair chasing ducks down the road one time!
All this hard work and progress has result in a robust system that is now, officially, finally live.
What’s So Different This Time?
There have been dozens of videos, articles and times where people have demonstrated autonomous cars in one way or another. None of them have quite gone the full distance though.
Some are on private courses or car parks. Most have technicians behind the wheel “just in case”. Others only drive the same specific route each time. Most also aren’t available to the public.
Waymo’s Early Riders program though changes all this. This is a public program. Anyone from the public (in the area it’s being done) can apply. The cars are driving on public roads with other public cars. And most importantly, there is no one behind the drivers wheel. Ever.
The importance of this step is quite significant. While it’s only available to people in the Phoenix metropolitan area, their goal is to bring self-driving cars to as many people as possible. Expansion is only a matter of time.
The fact that no one will be behind the wheel at any given time shows just how much trust and confidence Waymo has in their hardware and software. In every other public self-driving car example to date, there has always been someone behind the wheel to take over if the software glitches.
The Future Is Now!
Google and Waymo have been working hard for almost a decade on this problem. Now their results are bearing fruit. In one of their video’s it’s clear they have considerable plans for this to be huge with dozens of these vans already built.
Whenever I discuss “self-driving cars” with people they seem interested… but ultimately see it as far off fantasy, if it’s possible at all. From now on though, publicly available, completely self-driving cars operating on public roads is a thing.
Just like Deep Blue beat the world’s best human at chess decades ago, just like Watson trashed the best humans at Jeopardy! Waymo has now officially made taxi drivers, Lyft drivers, Uber drivers and God knows how many other job obsolete. Their time just ran out.
On the plus side, according to Waymo “94% of crashes involve human choice or error in the US“. Hopefully as self-driving cars consume all we see those deaths plummet in tandem.
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