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Even the self-driving leader Waymo strives for full autonomy



  Even self-driving leader Waymo struggles to achieve full autonomy

The rollout of Waymo One, Waymo's commercial self-drive taxi service, on Wednesday is far behind the company's own expectations.

In late September, a Waymo spokeswoman emailed Ars, saying the Phoenix service was completely driverless and open to the public ̵

1; claims I've made in this article.

We now know that Waymo One will not be completely driverless; there will be a driver in the driver's seat. And Waymo One is accessible to the public only in the narrowest and most technical sense: initially, it will only be available to early drivers – the same people who have been participating in Waymo's testing program for months.

This seems to be the latest This shows that Waymo's technology is developing more slowly than many expected – including Waymo's own leadership a year ago. People who have watched Waymos vehicles on public roads in recent months report that the cars are still struggling with unprotected left turns, mergers, and other difficult situations.

Waymo is widely regarded as an industry leader. The company began using self-drive technology in 2009, long before most other technology and automotive companies took it seriously. So, if Waymo is not ready to start a completely driverless service after more than 18 months of intense public testing, it should make us skeptical of claims by other companies that are ready to introduce fully self-driving technology in the foreseeable future.

Waymo One is hardly a public service.

The launch of Waymo One feels less like launching a public commercial service than renaming its test program. Waymo promised to launch a commercial service before the end of the year and Waymo One is technically qualified. But the service seems to be barely more accessible to the public than the early driver program Waymo had last week.

In a phone conversation on Thursday, a Waymo spokeswoman declined how many customers signed up for Waymo One on the first day or first day. How many trips did they make? If a lot of people sign up, you'd expect to post some photos or videos on social media, but 48 hours after the official launch, I could not find any signs of people using Waymo One – or even I have other people.

I'm sure Waymo is telling the truth when he says he invited "hundreds" of early riders to switch to Waymo One, and I'm assuming that at least a handful of people have signed up. Normally, however, this does not happen when a large public company puts an important new product on the market.

Waymo abandoned the plans for a completely driverless launch

The video from November 2017, in which the beginning of completely driverless tests was announced. It shows completely driverless Waymo cars driving on nearly empty residential streets. ">  This is a screenshot of Waymo's video from November 2017 announcing the launch of completely driverless testing, showing completely driverless Waymo cars driving on busy residential streets." src = "https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Screen-Shot-2018-12-07-at-10.02.37-AM-640x512.png" width = "640" height = "512" srcset = "https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Screen-Shot-2018-12-07-at-10.02.37-AM-1280x1024.png 2x
Enlarge / This is a screenshot from Waymo's November 2017 video that heralds the beginning of completely driverless testing and shows completely driverless Waymo cars driving on nearly empty roads.

Waymo [19659015] I was not the only reporter who was told Waymos first commercial service was completely driverless.

In March The New York Times reported that the Phoenix service of Waymo would pass by the end Waymo "intended to make rapid progress with a driverless public transport service because he was confident that his vehicles could be used in virtually any driving situation in which they were deployed would be safe, ". Times & # 39; Neal Boudette wrote. The same article states that Waymo expects to offer "one million trips per day by the end of 2019".

But in the last few months Waymo seems to have lost confidence in his completely driverless operations. Amir Efrati of the information reported last week that "The Alphabet Company has" put safety drivers behind the wheel of their most advanced prototypes for safety reasons. "

In fact, it is not clear if fully driverless vehicles are already doing a significant portion of Waymo's testing activities. According to an August story by Efrati, completely driverless tests were usually "located in relatively small residential areas of Chandler, Arizona, where traffic is low"

This space was filled with the experience of Ryan Randazzo, a reporter from ] Arizona Republic who handled Waymo for the past two years. Based in the Phoenix area, he regularly observes Waymo vehicles in action and talks to others in the area about the vehicles – including three days in October and November, when he followed Waymo vehicles to see how they work.

"I do not know that anyone has ever seen one without a driver in the driver's seat," since Waymo first announced driverless testing in November 2017, he told Ars, "I asked five different ways – what percentage Rides [are driverless] – they will not answer this question. "

Waymo cars have to contend with difficult situations

. In October and November, Randazzo spent three days observing Waymos cars in action, either by following them on the streets or staking out the company's Chandler depot. He has published his findings in a YouTube video. The results indicate that Waymo's vehicles are not yet ready for fully autonomous operation.

"Lane changes seem to be a problem for the cars," says Randazzo in the video. In an attempt to move on a crowded lane, a Waymo car seemed to lack the ability of a human driver to anticipate the actions of other drivers and squeeze into a vacancy. Instead, the vehicle would turn on its turn signal and wait a few seconds for an opening to appear. If one did not show up, he would turn off the turn signal and wait a while before trying again.

"It took almost a minute and a half to change lanes here," said Randazzo. "We talked to a person who uses these vehicles in the East Valley and said that sometimes they miss their turns because they are so hesitant."

In another incident, a Waymo car was part of a series of cars approaching an intersection where a car crash blocked the right lane. The human drivers were far ahead of the problem and switched to the left lane. The Waymo car drove straight on and just tried to merge on the left as it was a few car lengths off the traffic cones. The car then abruptly broke off the left merge and instead turned right into a turn – Randazzo guessed that this was the safety driver who took over the vehicle.

This comes with a video posted on YouTube in September showing a Waymo vehicle drive on a California freeway.

According to The Information's Efrati Waymo has had difficulty turning from a slow residential street to a large boulevard. This is also a problem The Washington Post which was observed during a recent Waymo test drive. Post reported that "left turns can be painfully slow" as they approach a major traffic artery.

With these challenges, it's not surprising that Waymo has safety drivers in his cars. And to put it bluntly, it's not my fault that Waymo did that. On the contrary, they deserve recognition when safety comes first. But if Waymo has largely stopped the tests with completely driverless vehicles – and there are a number of indications – it would be nice if Waymo talked to the public about it.

And even if Waymo was regarded as an industry leader for a long time – has difficulty rolling out completely driverless cars. This could be a cause for skepticism that its rivals will soon achieve this. We will see more and more self-driving cars on our roads. However, it may take a while for us to see those who are completely unmanned.


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