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  • In a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, there's a fleet of 600 minivans shuttling

  • people from place to place.

  • Ordering one feels almost exactly like calling an Uber, except for one thing:

  • the vans are driving themselves.

  • It does feel like from when I first got in that it is just a normal car.

  • Their vehicles are all over our roads.

  • I don't think you could stand at a street corner or drive a couple of

  • miles without seeing a Waymo vehicle.

  • I know that some of this technology is scary for many of our citizens, but

  • I think if you see other times in our economic arc that this has really

  • opened up new worlds for people and new opportunities.

  • This is my thirty third year in policing, and when I started in policing we

  • had vehicles, obviously, but there were there were no computers, no cell

  • phones. Pagers weren't even in existence yet.

  • So to see this technology in relatively a short 30 year span is just

  • absolutely fascinating.

  • In 2004, the U.S.

  • Department of Defense hosted a 142 mile driverless car obstacle course

  • competition.

  • The farthest any of the entrants got was a little over seven miles.

  • And off we go.

  • Good try, guys.

  • The next year, the DOD tried again, this time five vehicles completed the

  • course, but a team from Stanford did it the fastest.

  • That Stanford team was led by a computer scientist named Sebastian Thrun.

  • So I didn't anticipate this to become a race for speed. It was one

  • of the most thrilling races ever.

  • In 2007, Google hired Thrun and he created Google X.

  • Two years later, Google X launched a self-driving car project.

  • In 2016, that project spun off as its own company, called Waymo, under

  • Google's parent company, Alphabet.

  • Here's an example of the Waymo Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

  • There's nobody driving.

  • There's nobody behind the wheel.

  • The company says it's tested its vehicles in over 25 cities in six states.

  • But the most miles seem to have been driven around Phoenix, Arizona.

  • From the police department's point of view, our mission is to keep our city

  • safe. So we recognize this technology as something that could really

  • impact our roadways because the overwhelming majority of collisions are

  • preventable.

  • You get in the car and you have a seat and it has a start button.

  • And it's pretty trippy when you can see the fact that the car is driving

  • itself.

  • It's amazing to see how well the brain processes information, as a driver,

  • to see the car do the same exact thing.

  • It's great to be a part of history, for my kids to experience.

  • My daughter actually liked it a lot, didn't she?

  • Right now Waymo is doing two main things in the Phoenix area: Around a

  • thousand members of the community have access to its rideshare beta

  • program, Waymo One. Users can summon one of Waymo's 600 vehicles 24/7 and

  • ride anywhere within a limited local region.

  • And these users are actually paying for the rides, it's not just a free

  • demo. It also has a partnership with Lyft and makes ten of its vehicles

  • available to the general public via Lyft's app.

  • I probably use Waymo maybe percent of the time.

  • The biggest limiting factor is that it only goes in a certain defined

  • area, mostly in Chandler and Tempe and maybe a little bit of Mesa.

  • If it went all the way downtown, I would probably take it a whole lot

  • more.

  • The reason Waymo is limited to a small region is because its cars are

  • autonomous, but only in specific locations.

  • Everywhere it can drive has been carefully mapped and analyzed so that

  • even before sensing anything new, the vehicle already has a good sense of

  • where it is.

  • The Society of Automotive Engineers came up with a set of standards

  • defining the levels of autonomy a vehicle could be, ranging from zero to

  • five. And right now, Waymo's vehicles are at a four: capable of full

  • autonomy, but only sometimes.

  • Tesla refers to its driver-assist systems as Autopilot.

  • Nobody in the industry thinks that's the case.

  • Waymo and General Motors Cruise Automation are very close to having what

  • they refer to as level 5 cars, most of the time.

  • So right now it's standard for Waymo vehicles to have safety drivers behind

  • the wheel at all times, ready to take over if something were to go wrong.

  • And beyond that, there's a team of support staff on call to help riders.

  • The vehicles are constantly maintained by a team of people.

  • They're cleaned by a team of people.

  • While the driving itself is done mostly by a computer, the system is still

  • dependent on human labor.

  • A lot of the business promise and also the hope for these machines, these

  • autonomous vehicles, is that they eliminate labor and they eliminate the

  • need for human beings to drive and to be stuck in jobs like delivering

  • pizzas or picking up the elderly or the blind from their homes and taking

  • them to services, wherever it needs to be.

  • When we think through that a little more carefully, though, some of the

  • chinks in that idea show up. For

  • example, think of something like Meals on Wheels.

  • The vehicle shows up.

  • It opens the door.

  • There's the meal.

  • Maybe they can get out to the curb to get it, maybe not.

  • Even if they could, though, when that human driver shows up with a Meal on

  • Wheels, they actually come to the door.

  • Maybe they sit for a little bit.

  • So it's this human interaction that's still very much a part of these

  • transportation functions.

  • I think there's still a ways to go before they're ready for prime time on

  • the roadways.

  • But we want to be helpful in the testing of it.

  • And then we want to make certain that, whether it's at the state level or

  • the federal level, that all of those regulations and rules are being

  • properly followed.

  • Developing vehicles that adhere to strict safety protocols, including speed

  • limits, has occasionally been a point of contention for other human

  • drivers on the road.

  • There's been some experience where because our Waymo vehicles actually

  • follow the rules and the law, that some people who tend be in a rush, get

  • bothered by that.

  • So there's a transition that's going to happen.

  • But with rideshare companies like Lyft and Uber struggling to be

  • profitable, for them, leaning into self-driving cars could make sense.

  • As we saw from the Lyft and Uber IPOs, there does not appear to be a path

  • to profitability for ride hailing services with human drivers.

  • Even buses where, you know, operating the vehicle is very expensive, the

  • vehicle itself, the major portion of that expense is the driver.

  • The future of autonomous vehicles is more likely to be in the form of

  • ridesharing fleets that you can borrow when you need, but no actual car

  • ownership. So I think they see an opportunity in cars that will be able to

  • transport things, transport people, but not so much around car ownership.

  • And it's still a little bit unclear as to where they see the biggest money

  • coming from, but at least that's where it's evolved to.

  • In March 2018, a woman named Elaine Herzberg was killed by an Uber

  • self-driving car just 13 miles from Waymo's office.

  • But it didn't slow Waymo down.

  • It was business as usual in Chandler.

  • The next day, just as many vehicles were on the road.

  • It was an unfortunate incident for another company.

  • But again, Waymo has had an extremely conservative business model and

  • safety protocols that they had really weathered that storm well.

  • We were very saddened, of course, by what happened in Arizona.

  • Our hearts go out to the family and all those impacted by the crash.

  • At Waymo, our focus has always been safety.

  • In our city, there have been no collisions where the Waymo has been at

  • fault. So you can take that any way you want as an indicator, but it's

  • such a small sample size.

  • Certainly we anticipate the more these vehicles are out there functioning

  • at the level that they're expected to function at, if it takes away that

  • human element, it potentially could have a very positive impact on the

  • roadways.

  • Some people have asked, you know, is it actually safe?

  • You know, when you are inside, do you get nervous or, you know, do you

  • think anything is going to go wrong?

  • And I'd say, well, you know, no, there's always a driver, you know, at

  • least while they're still getting the technology, you know, hammered out.

  • Waymo is way ahead of everybody else in terms of the technology.

  • They have these disengagement reports in California.

  • They disengage a lot less, a lot fewer times, than anybody else.

  • You know, I think the robot drivers are probably actually better than human

  • drivers.

  • Arriving shortly at your destination.

  • Please keep your seatbelts fastened until we reach your destination and

  • remember to take all your belongings with you.

  • Proponents of autonomous vehicles make compelling claims about the

  • potential benefits of self-driving cars.

  • 94% of all crashes are due to human error.

  • 42 hours are wasted sitting in traffic per person per year in the US.

  • That's an entire working week every year.

  • And millions more people aren't able to drive because they're elderly or

  • living with a disability.

  • And self-driving cars have the potential to change all of that for all of

  • us.

  • I think these cars and automobiles and trucks provide a real opportunity

  • for the state.

  • There's a lot that can be done for disabled people, for blind people, for

  • elderly people.

  • So many of the deaths that happen on our roads are a result of human

  • error and I believe these autonomous vehicles can provide higher public

  • safety and that really is the objective.

  • But it's just not clear these things would actually happen with more

  • self-driving cars on the road.

  • One of the things I often hear from people is when an autonomous vehicle is

  • better than the fiftieth percentile driver on the road, we have an

  • absolute responsibility to let them onto the road.

  • Others, like Elon Musk, have said it's almost irresponsible not to have

  • these vehicles out there because they are safer and will be safer than

  • human drivers.

  • That's not been proven.

  • It presents a problem, which is people dying on the road or crashing and

  • so forth, and saying, well, therefore, you need this solution.

  • But of course, there are a lot of solutions.

  • And one of the solutions we see right now are things like autonomous

  • braking, lane keeping assist, all of these driver-assist systems which

  • take a good driver and make them better.

  • And so even if we could say that an autonomous vehicle was better than a

  • human driver, it doesn't mean that an autonomous vehicle is better than a

  • human driver plus all the advanced driver assist systems we have.

  • And if the goal is safety above all else, there are other less complicated

  • things that could be done.

  • For example, since speeding is known to be one of the top causes of car

  • accidents, members of the European Parliament recently provisionally

  • agreed to require all vehicles sold in Europe to include mandatory speed

  • limiters.

  • A lot of the promises about autonomous vehicles are around congestion and

  • particularly safety

  • They are kind of a silver bullet, Silicon Valley, a tech-bro solution to

  • the problem of road deaths.

  • There's a much less exciting solution to road deaths, particularly in

  • urban areas, and it's called Vision Zero.

  • And the premise is pretty straightforward.

  • It says, let's start with safety and then let's add mobility.

  • The current idea around driving, around cars, is let's get as much

  • mobility as we can and then let's start to make things safer.

  • Whether or not autonomous vehicles are safer than human drivers is in a

  • lot of ways beside the point.

  • They're more lucrative than selling cars to people.

  • They're more lucrative than selling rides driven by human beings.

  • So while there are other, potentially better solutions, updating

  • infrastructure and making policy changes is never going to be as

  • interesting to most people as cars that can drive themselves.

  • With the new technology, there's going to be a time period where you have

  • to, you know, give it a try and work out the bugs.

  • Like if there's a computer program, I don't think I've ever seen somebody

  • code something and hit run and it works perfectly the first time.

  • You have to give us some real world experience.

  • And so, you know that not everything is going to work perfectly right off

  • the bat.

  • I used to say a year ago that I was sitting in a diner and looking out the

  • door at 6 a.m.

  • and I saw in the span of an hour 12 Waymo vehicles.

  • That was trumped about six weeks ago when I saw about 30 Waymo vehicles at

  • intersections. And I don't know if it was a parade or whatever, but it

  • was, they're just all over our streets.

  • And it's a good relationship.

In a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, there's a fleet of 600 minivans shuttling

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B1 US autonomous driver driving human vehicle safety

Inside The City Where Waymo Tests Self-Driving Vehicles

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/07
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