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Waymo is an autonomous car development company spun out of Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc., in December 2016. It then took over the self-driving car project[1] which Google had begun in 2009.[2] Alphabet describes Waymo as "a self-driving tech company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around". The new company, which will be headed by long-time automotive executive John Krafcik, is working towards making self-driving cars available to the public soon.[3][4] From the company's FAQ:

Waymo LLC
Subsidiary
Industry Autonomous cars
Predecessor Google Self-Driving Car Project
Founded 2009; 8 years ago (2009) (as the Google Self-Driving Car Project)
December 13, 2016; 7 months ago (2016-12-13) (as Waymo LLC.)
Headquarters Mountain View, California, United States
Key people
Parent
Website waymo.com
A Waymo self-driving car
A self-driving car with the previous Google branding

Our next step will be to let people trial fully self-driving cars to do everyday things like run errands or commute to work.[5]

Contents

HistoryEdit

Google's self driving car project was formerly led by Sebastian Thrun, former director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View. Thrun's team at Stanford created the robotic vehicle Stanley which won the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and its US$2 million prize from the United States Department of Defense.[6] The team developing the system consisted of 15 engineers working for Google, including Chris Urmson, Mike Montemerlo, and Anthony Levandowski who had worked on the DARPA Grand and Urban Challenges.[7]

In October 2010, an attorney for the California Department of Motor Vehicles raised concerns that "[t]he technology is ahead of the law in many areas", citing state laws that "all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle".[6]

According to a May 2011 article in The New York Times, policy makers and regulators have argued that new laws will be required if driverless vehicles are to become a reality because "the technology is now advancing so quickly that it is in danger of outstripping existing law, some of which dates back to the era of horse-drawn carriages".[8]

Nevada passed a law in June 2011 concerning the operation of autonomous cars in Nevada,[8][9][10] which went into effect on March 1, 2012.[11] A Toyota Prius modified with Google's experimental driverless technology was licensed by the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in May 2012. This was the first license issue in the United States for a self-driven car.[11] License plates issued in Nevada for autonomous cars will have a red background and feature an infinity symbol () on the left side because, according to the DMV Director, "...using the infinity symbol was the best way to represent the 'car of the future'".[12] Nevada's regulations require a person behind the wheel and one in the passenger's seat during tests.

In late May 2014, Google revealed a new prototype of its driverless car, which had no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal, being 100% autonomous.[13][14] and unveiled a fully functioning prototype in December of that year that they planned to test on San Francisco Bay Area roads beginning in 2015.[15]

In 2015, Nathaniel Fairfield, Waymo's Principal Engineer, provided "the world's first fully driverless ride on public roads" to an old friend of his, who is legally blind.[16] Steve Mahan, former CEO of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, was the recipient of the first self-driving ride on public roads, in Austin, Texas.[2][17] In 2015, the project completed its first driverless ride on public roads, giving a ride to a sole blind man in Austin, Texas.[2][17]

It was the first driverless ride that was on a public road and was not accompanied by a test driver or police escort. The car had no steering wheel or floor pedals.[18]

In December 2016, the unit was renamed Waymo, and spun off as its own separate division. Waymo is derived from its mission, "a new way forward in mobility".[1]

TechnologyEdit

 
A Lexus RX450h retrofitted by Google for its self-driving car project

The project team has equipped a number of different types of cars with the self-driving equipment, including the Toyota Prius, Audi TT, and Lexus RX450h,[19] Google has also developed their own custom vehicle, which is assembled by Roush Enterprises and uses equipment from Bosch, ZF Lenksysteme, LG, and Continental.[20][21] In May 2016, Google and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced an order of 100 Pacifica hybrid minivans to test the technology on.[22]

Google's robotic cars have about $150,000 in equipment including a $70,000 LIDAR system.[23] The range finder mounted on the top is a Velodyne 64-beam laser. This laser allows the vehicle to generate a detailed 3D map of its environment. The car then takes these generated maps and combines them with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself.[24]

As of June 2014, the system works with a very high definition inch-precision map of the area the vehicle is expected to use, including how high the traffic lights are; in addition to on-board systems, some computation is performed on remote computer farms.[25]

Road testingEdit

In August 2016 alone, their cars traveled a "total of 170,000 miles; of those, 126,000 miles were driven autonomously (i.e. the car was fully in control)".[26]

As of June 2016, Google had test driven their fleet of vehicles, in autonomous mode, a total of 1,725,911 mi (2,777,585 km).[27]

Beginning of 2017, Waymo reported to California DMV a total of 636,868 miles covered by the fleet in autonomous mode, and the associated 124 disengagements, for the period from December 1, 2015 through November 30, 2016. [28]

 
A Toyota Prius modified to operate as a Google driverless car, navigating a test course[29]

In 2012, the test group of vehicles included six Toyota Prius, an Audi TT, and three Lexus RX450h,[19] each accompanied in the driver's seat by one of a dozen drivers with unblemished driving records and in the passenger seat by one of Google's engineers. By May 2015, that fleet consisted solely of 23 Lexus SUVs.[30]

Google's vehicles have traversed San Francisco's Lombard Street, famed for its steep hairpin turns, and through city traffic. The vehicles have driven over the Golden Gate Bridge and around Lake Tahoe.[7] The system drives at the speed limit it has stored on its maps and maintains its distance from other vehicles using its system of sensors.[31] The system provides an override that allows a human driver to take control of the car by stepping on the brake or turning the wheel, similar to cruise control systems already found in many cars today.[6][12]

On March 28, 2012, Google posted a YouTube video showing Steve Mahan, a resident of Morgan Hill, California, being taken on a ride in Google's self-driving Toyota Prius. In the video, Mahan states "Ninety-five percent of my vision is gone, I'm well past legally blind". In the description of the YouTube video, it is noted that the carefully programmed route takes him from his home to a drive-through restaurant, then to the dry cleaning shop, and finally back home.[32][33]

In August 2012, the team announced that they have completed over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles (500,000 km) accident-free, typically having about a dozen cars on the road at any given time, and are starting to test them with single drivers instead of in pairs.[34] Four U.S. states have passed laws permitting autonomous cars as of December 2013: Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan.[35] A law proposed in Texas would establish criteria for allowing "autonomous motor vehicles".[36][37]

In April 2014, the team announced that their vehicles have now logged nearly 700,000 autonomous miles (1.1 million km).[38]

In June 2015, the team announced that their vehicles have now driven over 1,000,000 mi (1,600,000 km), stating that this was "the equivalent of 75 years of typical U.S. adult driving", and that in the process they had encountered 200,000 stop signs, 600,000 traffic lights, and 180 million other vehicles.[39] Google also announced its prototype vehicles were being road tested in Mountain View, California.[40] During testing, the prototypes' speed will not exceed 25 mph (40 km/h) and will have safety drivers aboard the entire time. As a consequence, one of the vehicles was stopped by police for impeding traffic flow.[41]

Google has expanded its road-testing to the state of Texas, where regulations do not prohibit cars without pedals and a steering wheel.[42] Bills were introduced by interested parties to similarly change the legislation in California.[43]

Google expected the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to release precedent-setting regulations regarding driverless cars in January 2015, allowing the company to give public access to the prototypes. As of October 2016, the CA DMV just issued draft regulations so is waiting for public comments.[44][needs update]

CrashesEdit

Based on Google's own accident reports, their test cars have been involved in 14 collisions, of which human drivers were at fault 13 times. It was not until 2016 that the car's software caused a crash.

As of July 2015, Google's 23 self-driving cars have been involved in 14 minor collisions on public roads,[30] but Google maintains that, in all cases other than the February 2016 incident, the vehicle itself was not at fault because the cars were either being manually driven or the driver of another vehicle was at fault.[45][46][47]

In June 2015, Google founder Sergey Brin confirmed that there had been 12 collisions as of that date, eight of which involved being rear-ended at a stop sign or traffic light, two in which the vehicle was side-swiped by another driver, one of which involved another driver rolling through a stop sign, and one where a Google employee was manually driving the car.[48] In July 2015, three Google employees suffered minor injuries when the self-driving car they were riding in was rear-ended by a car whose driver failed to brake at a traffic light. This was the first time that a self-driving car collision resulted in injuries.[49]

On February 14, 2016 a Google self-driving car attempted to avoid sandbags blocking its path. During the maneuver it struck a bus. Google addressed the crash, saying "In this case, we clearly bear some responsibility, because if our car hadn't moved there wouldn't have been a collision".[50][51] Some incomplete video footage of the crash is available.[52] Google characterized the crash as a misunderstanding and a learning experience.[53] The company also stated "This type of misunderstanding happens between human drivers on the road every day".[54]

Additionally, Google maintains monthly reports that include any traffic incidents that their self-driving cars have been involved in.[55]

Google is required by the California DMV to report the number of incidents during testing where the human driver took control. Some of these incidents are not reported by Google when simulations indicate the car should have coped on its own. There is some controversy concerning this distinction between driver-initiated disengagements that Google reports and those that it does not report.[56]

LimitationsEdit

As of 28 August 2014, according to Computer World Google's self-driving cars were in fact unable to use about 99% of US roads.[57] As of the same date, the latest prototype had not been tested in heavy rain or snow due to safety concerns.[58] Because the cars rely primarily on pre-programmed route data, they do not obey temporary traffic lights and, in some situations, revert to a slower "extra cautious" mode in complex unmapped intersections. The vehicle has difficulty identifying when objects, such as trash and light debris, are harmless, causing the vehicle to veer unnecessarily. Additionally, the lidar technology cannot spot some potholes or discern when humans, such as a police officer, are signaling the car to stop.[59] Google projects plan on having these issues fixed by 2020.[60]

CommercializationEdit

In 2012, Google founder Sergey Brin stated that Google Self-Driving car will be available for the general public in 2017,[61] and in 2014 this schedule was updated by project director Chris Urmson to indicate a possible release from 2017 to 2020.[62] Google has partnered with suppliers including Bosch, ZF Lenksysteme, LG, Continental, and Roush, and has contacted manufacturers including General Motors, Ford, Toyota (including Lexus), Daimler and Volkswagen.[21]

 
Public road testing of self-driving cars is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia as of April 2017. Driverless testing is also legal in Michigan.

In August 2013, news reports surfaced about Robo-Taxi, a proposed driverless vehicle taxicab service from Google.[63] These reports re-appeared again in early 2014,[64] following the granting of a patent to Google for an advertising fee funded transportation service which included autonomous vehicles as a method of transport.[65] Paid Google consultant Larry Burns says self-driving, taxi-like vehicles "should be viewed as a new form of public transportation".[66]

In a December 2016 blog post, CEO John Krafcik stated:[67] "We can see our technology being useful in personal vehicles, ridesharing, logistics, or solving last mile problems for public transport" but also that "Our next step as Waymo will be to let people use our vehicles to do everyday things like run errands, commute to work, or get safely home after a night on the town". Temporary use of vehicles is known as Transportation as a Service.

LegislationEdit

Legislation has been passed in four U.S. states and Washington, D.C. allowing driverless cars. The state of Nevada passed a law on June 29, 2011, permitting the operation of autonomous cars in Nevada, after Google had been lobbying in that state for robotic car laws.[8][9] The Nevada law went into effect on March 1, 2012, and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued the first license for an autonomous car in May 2012, to a Toyota Prius modified with Google's experimental driverless technology.[11] In April 2012, Florida became the second state to allow the testing of autonomous cars on public roads,[68] and California became the third when Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law at Google Headquarters in Mountain View.[69] In December 2013, Michigan became the fourth state to allow testing of driverless cars on public roads.[70] In July 2014, the city of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho adopted a robotics ordinance that includes provisions to allow for self-driving cars.[71]

In December 2015, the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued long-anticipated proposed regulations governing autonomous vehicles,[72] and invited public comments on the draft regulations at meetings in Sacramento on January 28, 2016, and in Los Angeles on February 2, 2016.[73] If adopted, the regulations would require self-driving cars to have a steering wheel and pedals, and a human driver onboard who holds an "autonomous vehicle operator certificate."[74] They would also hold the occupant responsible for accidents and violations of traffic laws, regardless of whether or not they were at the wheel.[75] The DMV summarized its perspective by stating, "Given the potential risks associated with deployment of such a new technology, [we believe] that manufacturers need to obtain more experience in testing driverless vehicles on public roads prior to making this technology available to the general public".[76] Lobbying by project manager Chris Urmson from Google in the US Senate is underway to change this.[77]

Waymo LLC v. Uber Technologies, Inc. et al.Edit

In February 2017, Waymo sued Uber and its subsidiary self-driving trucking company, Otto, for stealing Waymo's trade secrets and infringing upon its patents. The company alleged that three ex-Google employees including Anthony Levandowski stole trade secrets and joined Uber. The infringement is related to Waymo's proprietary LiDAR technology.[78][79]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit