The CEO of self-driving car company Waymo told attendees of the 2018 Google I/O conference Tuesday that their self-driving car service will begin operations by the end of the year in Phoenix, Arizona.
At the I/O developers conference, Google invited Waymo head John Krafcik onstage to make the big announcement. Waymo is a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, and Krafcik said engineers at both companies were hard at work on the AI backing their self-driving cars.
People will be able to download a Waymo app and secure rides on autonomous vehicles through it, with no driver present, Krafcik said.
Waymo has been operating autonomous vehicles on the roads of Phoenix since October, and is one of the first companies to do so in the US. Originally, Waymo was a part of Google before it was spun off into its own company under the Alphabet umbrella. Despite the separation, members of Google's Brain team have helped Waymo engineers by beefing up the neural networks underpinning the AI operating the vehicles.
SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of autonomous vehicles (Tech Pro Research)
Waymo engineers have been testing the cars' autonomous driving skills but they have left an engineer in most vehicles as a safety precaution in the past. But in a speech last year, Krafcik said Waymo vehicles are designed and built for "full autonomy."
"Our combination of powerful sensors gives our vehicles a 360 degree view of the world. The lasers can see objects in three dimensions, up to 300 meters away. We also have short range lasers that stay focused close-up to the side of the vehicle. Our radars can see underneath and around vehicles, tracking moving objects usually hidden from the human eye," he told a conference in Madrid.
Waymo said their cars have driven more than 6 million miles on the road and 5 billion miles through simulations. Part of what helps the cars improve their driving is practice. The more time the vehicles spend outside learning and accumulating data on specific situations, the better equipped they'll be to handle tough problems in real time. Waymo believes their cars are ready for public use after hours of testing in Arizona as well as Michigan, Washington, Arizona, California and Georgia.
"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 at the conference last year. For business travelers, the autonomous vehicles offer a unique way to get to a conference or meeting as well.
Waymo has also secured deals with Jaguar, Fiat-Chrysler, Lyft, and Avis to provide fleets of autonomous vehicles.
But the plan to fill the roads with driverless cars has had its fair share of speed bumps. Legislation, both locally and federally, has been slow to keep up with the rapid pace of advancement, and there have been a number of accidents involving autonomous vehicles.
One of Uber's autonomous vehicles struck and killed a Tempe, Arizona woman in March as she crossed the street and only a few weeks after that incident, a Tesla driver diedwhile using their self-driving system "Autopilot."
The big takeaways for tech leaders:
- Waymo will begin offering rides through their autonomous vehicle app by the end of the year in Phoenix.
- Other self-driving car companies are trying to catch up to Waymo, which has gotten help from Google's powerful AI department.
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- Waymo, Jaguar Land Rover form autonomous driving partnership (ZDNet)
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- California to legalize robot taxis: Could AI make your business travel cheaper? (TechRepublic)
Jonathan Greig has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jonathan Greig is a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.