According to anonymous sources close to the matter, Waymo, the self-driving car company that started out as a division of Google, is only a matter of months away from having driverless vehicles on the road.
If you’ve been following Waymo’s progress, you’ll know it’s already been running tests of its autonomous vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona. But these tests have all been carried out with a driver behind the wheel for safety.
The new plan is to take off the training wheels, and have the cars drive themselves without the safety person as early as this autumn.
Most likely the tests will continue to be in Phoenix, thanks to its well-maintained roads, sparse population and favorable laws when it comes to self-driving cars.
Hailing a robo-taxi
Obviously, if the test is a success Waymo will then look to bringing its ride-hailing driverless cars to more areas, so there’s every possibility that your first ride in a driverless taxi could happen in the next couple of years.
Before that can happen, there will need to be conversations about regulation, and ironing out the kinks that are currently affecting self-driving cars, namely the dependence on humans for difficult decisions.
At present, when a Waymo vehicle is in a situation where it doesn’t know what to do it will contact a human operator, who will tell it what to do. This makes sense in terms of limiting the amount of humans needed, as one person can potentially guide many vehicles.
The problem is, if a person doesn’t respond immediately to the car’s request, it could potentially be dangerous. Whether the solution lies in hiring more humans or improving the capability of the vehicle to make decisions, Waymo will have to prove that its vehicles are completely safe before a global rollout.