Waymo to Offer Paid-Ride Robot-Only Chauffeurs 2018

Waymo vans loaded with laser LiDAR, radar, cameras, computers, AI and no human safety drivers will pick up Arizonans registered in its “Early Riders” program within a few months. Commercial, paid-ride service starts in 2018.

Those who thought self-driving vehicles with no backup human driver was decades away are about to find out the future starts in 2018 as Waymo Shifts to Robot-Only Chauffeurs with commercial service starting in 2018.

Waymo technicians are already hailing its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in and around Phoenix via a mobile app and leaving it to the artificial intelligence operating the vehicles to figure out how to get to requested destinations. Within a few months, Waymo vans loaded with laser LiDAR, radar, cameras, computers, AI and no human safety drivers will pick up Arizonans registered in its “Early Riders” program.

In May it announced plans for an autonomous vehicle pilot program with ride-hailing service Lyft, and in June inked a service deal with rental car giant Avis to help maintain its Phoenix area test fleet. That month Waymo also disclosed that it’s testing self-driving technology on large commercial trucks.

Waymo minivans operate at SAE Level 4 autonomous capability which means they can drive without a human at the wheel in most circumstances. They are trying to reach Level 5 capability, in which vehicles can drive anywhere a human can under all conditions.

"Someday these cars will drive themselves. That day is today," says a mom who watches young kids get into a Waymo van in a test service now operating in Phoenix.

I seem to recall readers telling me that parents would never let their kids get in such a vehicle.

Inquiring minds may wish to download Waymo's 43 page PDF on who the technology work.s

Self-Driving Vehicle Sensors and Cybersecurity

Waymo security practices are built on the foundation of Google’s Security processes and are informed by publications like the NHTSA Cybersecurity Guidance and the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center’s (Auto-ISAC) Automotive Cybersecurity Best Practices. Waymo has also joined the Auto-ISAC, an industry-operated initiative created to enhance cybersecurity awareness and collaboration across the global automotive industry.

Real World Experience

Over the last eight years, Waymo has tested our vehicles in four U.S. states and self-driven in more than 20 cities—from sunny Phoenix, AZ to rainy Kirkland, WA—accumulating more than 3.5 million autonomous miles in the process. Driving in Phoenix has tested sensors and software in desert conditions, including extreme temperatures and dust in the air. Waimo says it knows how to navigate around new types of vehicles, like watering trucks that move 3 mph on 45 mph roads while spraying plants in road medians. Austin provided horizontal traffic signals for the first time, and Kirkland gave Waymo wet weather practice.

Simulated Image

The simulated imagery shown demonstrates how Waymo software assigns predictions to each object surrounding their own vehicle — other vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, etc.

Self-Driving Future Arrives in 2018

The self-driving future that allegedly was still decades away arrives in 2018, in actual paid-for commercial service.

I still expect naysayers to tell me about snow and ice and other situations that will make self-driving impossible. However, the worse the conditions, the safer self-driving will be.

As I have pointed out before, substrate mapping can see through six inches of snow. All it takes is mapping the roads. Highway transmitters might be coming as well. And of course, this is only 2018.

Ford claims it will offer self-driving vehicles by 2021. 2021 is still over three years away.

Widespread adoption by the average person may be slow, but mass adoption by trucks will happen within a year the department of transportation allows self-driving trucks on the highways.

I suggest that by 2022 a huge percentage if not an outright the majority of trucks on the highways will be self-driving.

Uber and Lyft plan fleets of self-driving cars. Those who drive for a living, seriously need to think about their next job.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Your nuns and mother/child example is great. A self-driving car that can recognize nuns and identify a mother and child combo? Could it even tell the difference between a dog running out into the road and a small child? I doubt it. A lot of Kool Aid is being consumed.

@Grumblenose

Yes, the current generation of computer-driven vehicles like the Waymo above can recognize objects - including other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and even animals. And yes - they all share this info in real time. Not only that, it can even make predictions about what can happen given a developing situation and then make decisions based on those predictions.

And if all the other vehicles are also computer-driven, then they are all talking and making decisions together about situations on the road.

What do you think the human brain is? It's a computer - constantly processing and analyzing situations and making decisions based on predictions that are based on past experiences.

Imagine if your decisions weren't just guided by your experiences and predictions, but on the experiences and predictions of twenty other drivers within a fifty yard radius accompanied by stored data from previous drivers in the area - in real time.

This is the system that's being built.

You can keep waving your hands at it, but it's not going away.

And then what about hackers? These cars are supposed, in the future to communicate with each other and with the highway infrastructure. They will be on the F'ing internet!!! What would things look like if every vehicle on the road made a sharp left turn at 8:30AM EST or PST?? The NSA and CIA are worried about the power grid. I can do without electricity for a bit. A massive power outage would result in deaths, but nothing like 40,000,000 cars in the ditch.

@WildBull

I also am not enthused by the idea of everything being networked together. Apparently the people pushing hard for this and claiming it is a positive feature have not read enough spy novels or watched enough dystopian sci-fi.

A single interconnected network potentially means: (1) one common point of control, (2) one common point of failure, (3) one common point of ownership. The negative scenarios based on these suppositions are too numerous to mention. Many cautionary tales have found their way to the big screen. If a pledge of fealty will be required in exchange for using a self-driving car, then I am going to keep a manually driven car as back-up. I might even drive my manual car most of the time.

DBG8489: Your fantasy self-learning scenario is just that. To actually achieve that, AI would need to be able to analysis complex scenarios, abstract out the lessons to be learnt from them, and then be able to re-apply those discovered abstract ideas in new, different scenarios. If that could be done today, we would all be out of our jobs! Maybe one day.

Supposed "hackers" have already taken control of cars with WiFi. These were people with access to the security hole left for law enforcement or a password used by the manufacturer during testing. Many things today are not "hacked" but instead are subject to espionage, where passwords, obscure security flaws and other critical information are stolen and released by insiders. It is very difficult to keep this kind of information under control because so many people end up with access to it. A system run cooperatively among auto manufacturers, their vendors, government regulators, highway departments, their vendors, law enforcement and a slew of other players will be almost impossible to keep secure.

@Wildbull

Cars don't need power from the grid to run - or share data among each other. And they can store enough mapping data locally to be without for long enough to either clear the roads, or get themselves to safety if necessary.

The biggest problem is vulnerability to hacking. To prevent this, they need to come up with a fairly foolproof method of data sharing and remote access. Something so secure it's miles beyond what we have now. It can be done - I'm sure of it. However, the biggest issue I see with that is the unwillingness of government to allow the autonomy necessary for the networks to work without their interference. They will demand "back doors" and ways to shut down cars when they want and what-not. And these things can - and will - be exploited by external means.

@CautiousObserver

As a person who - before management life - built his career engineering ultra-high-speed, hyper-redundant networks for data center use - I can tell you that today's networks are miles beyond what we had just ten years ago. Five nines of up-time (which allows for about 5.5 minutes per year of downtime) is no longer something we strive for - it's expected. Using redundant fiber paths, hardware, and redundant UPS/generation systems any one of the data centers my employer owns can maintain itself forever - providing we can continue getting diesel. However, none of that matters to a computer-driven vehicle that doesn't need that network to run safely. Maps don't have to be updated in real time from a remote server. Maps will be maintained locally - and the "network" that the vehicles will use to communicate exists between them - without a server or router or anything in between. They will be "ad hoc" networks generated on-the-fly as vehicles become close enough in proximity to each other.

@Grumblenose

Ask yourself what makes these decisions so complex. What is it about a situation - say ten thousand vehicles navigating through a big city on freeways and surface streets - that makes it so difficult to predict? Human nature. Humans interpret situations differently for a variety of reasons - most of which have nothing to do with logic or reason - and they react to those situations in different ways. What if you and the drivers in the vehicles next to you could talk to each other in real time and tell each other what you were doing? Or what to do? Or what not to do? Now imagine those same ten thousand vehicles are driven by computers, interconnected with each other and able to communicate all the variables, the decisions begin to boil down to simple logic - nothing more. And if all the computers will make the same decision in the same situations, then there is no more "guessing" what the decisions will be.

It's funny - you're here waving your hands at it and claiming that "we won't see it in our lifetimes" and meanwhile, the engineers are already doing it.

For what it's worth, I don't have an opinion on the intelligence of doing this. I guess if I had to lean one way or the other, I'd say it's probably not the best idea. However, I don't really care. I drive an early eighties model vehicle with a cable clutch and a carburetor. I do all of the work on it myself including machining new parts if necessary. I will continue to drive it no matter what. I'm just telling you that this is coming and it's coming faster than you think - and all the hand waving and ignoring it isn't going to make it go away. There are too many people who do want it and will do anything to make it happen.

@DBG8489

I do not question your point about network redundancy, very high hardware reliability and ability of vehicles to operate on a standalone basis for periods of time.

It is central control and central system ownership that I really dislike. Notwithstanding that, inherently reliable design still does not address vulnerabilities such as extended system failures, malware, design errors, etc. Recently my area had an extended power outage. After the first 24 hours, nearly all services failed including internet, cell phone, and water because all used electricity and all had insufficient backups for an extended outage. As a separate example, I recently purchased some accounting software which demands internet access to fully function. Denying it internet access actually breaks part of the software and causes it to periodically throw errors.

If self-driving cars make a central connection mandatory I will count it as a strike against the design and that will make it less likely I will purchase one.

@DBG8489 Cars don't have to be networked, but they will be. I know it's coming, but it is a huge safety/security problem. It is a cyberterrorists dream.

@CautiousObserver

Like I said - I lean towards thinking it's a bad idea. I don't think self-driving cars are a bad idea however. But government will never let them exist without central control...

@WildBull

I agree.

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