By on October 13, 2017


Autonomous cars have the unique capability to captivate the public’s imagination while simultaneously making them feel uneasy after considering things on a more practical level. A handful of self-driving related accidents, inconsistent development timetables, and a hands-off regulation strategy haven’t helped. But there is a sense that if the populace had a better handle on what went into making the technology work safely, some of their fears would be put to rest.

This week, Waymo — the relatively quiet autonomous vehicle arm of Alphabet Inc. — made an attempt to do just that. While also making a case for itself and the need for self-driving cars, the company released a 42-page outline of how its autonomous systems function. Written without a lot of technical jargon, the reading remains comprehensive and is one of the best attempts we’ve seen from a company to educate the public — rather than dazzle them with lofty promises. 

Waymo has been on a bit of a safety kick this month. Taking into account that there is a good portion of the population that still feels anxious about self-driving cars, its new campaign is single minded in its goal to highlight safety and understanding. It’s probably some of the least duplicitous marketing we’ve ever seen and it serves not only to help Waymo, but any manufacturer hoping to sell autonomous vehicles in the years to come. 


Don’t be fooled, though. These are still advertisements for the company. They just happen to be some of the most informative advertisements you’re likely to come across.

The safety report, which is available for perusal, splits Waymo’s definition of autonomous safety into five categories. It then explains how the tech firm addresses each one. The report cover everything from how the car makes driving decisions to ensuring there are adequate backups and technological redundancies to ensure a system failure won’t result in a crash.

Equally important, the report details the company’s existing sensor system — explaining what each lump of hardware is responsible for. It also gives a shorthand play-by-play of how its vehicles go about accomplishing a task and how the environment influences decisions.


While it may be a bit basic for experts, the document does provide a more inclusive look into autonomous technology and the company’s specific approach to it. Of course, that was always the point. Waymo is taking a very specific marketing path and, despite being a little dry, it’s likely the only way to truly ease consumer fretting. Getting into its extensive testing, validation processes, and various partnerships with advocacy groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and The National Safety Council wasn’t necessary. But it plants the seed into your brain that Waymo is doing more, doing it smarter, and doing it safer than its competition.

Whether or not that is the case, the company is offering transparency and an opportunity for the public to understand the technology better. That, in itself, ought to serve it well.

“Education begins with awareness, so we’re beginning this campaign with a series of digital and outdoor advertising campaigns in Arizona,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a statement earlier this week. “Our hope is to grow this conversation into a national dialogue and provide opportunities for people to get up close with this technology.”

Waymo’s educational campaign is anticipated to coincide with the launch its first commercial ride-hailing service. Expected later this fall, the company’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans will engage in a testbed ride-haling service. However, Arizonians should be able to ride in one at the aforementioned outdoor events free of charge.


[Images: Waymo]

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6 Comments on “Waymo Drops Comprehensive Self-Driving Safety Assessment, Tries to Educate Public...”

  • avatar

    In many places, public robot cars/taxis are going to turn into a 1982 garbage-strewn London/NYC phone booth with pleasant potpourri stenches to match, unless interior cameras run 24/7 and fine/ban litterers.

    And/or you get a “this car is filthy, send me another” button on the app

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

    • 0 avatar

      AV cabs will not be a mess because, just as you suggest, video will record anytime passengers are on board, and the camera along with other sensors will know if the cab needs to be returned to the shop for cleaning. And since you will order the cab through an app on your phone, the video will be matched to your account. The fine print in the user agreement for the app will allow the cab company to charge you for the cleanup. App ordering will also prevent the riff-raff from using the cabs, or will at least partition clients based on what they’re willing to pay.

  • avatar

    I’m not anxious about fully automated cars. I just see no evidence that such a thing can be done in my lifetime. 90% automated? Sure. But that last ten percent is always the part that gets you

    Driving around dry well marked streets in the daytime is comparatively easy. Get back to me when you’ve got something that can do an unmarked one lane road on a rainy night

    • 0 avatar

      When 80, I’ll take one that only works in nice weather. My goal is to stay the heck out of a health care facility. I don’t think I could live like that. If a 90% vehicle can help, gimmie.

  • avatar

    And we know that they’re serious about safety, because little red-headed girl.

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