By on March 13, 2018

waymo-pacifica

After getting the go-ahead from Arizona, autonomous tech firm Waymo has implemented the first ride-hailing service in the country that doesn’t employ human drivers. One month after securing approval, and with no major incidents to date, the company has begun offering its autonomous taxi service to paying passengers. On Tuesday, Waymo CEO John Krafcik gave a speech at South by Southwest (the indie music festival that evolved into a media and tech bonanza) to showcase how things were getting on.

He said Waymo ditched the Phoenix test drivers and is readying its fleet of driverless Chrysler Pacificas for other parts of the country. The festival was then treated to a short video of passengers yawning. Those yawns are actually trumpets, however, heralding the introduction of autonomous vehicles in North America.

Apologies if that makes it sound exciting, because the video clip is about as enthralling as relaxing next to a lavender-scented candle. But that’s the point.

Waymo has been on a mission to provide the public with propaganda evidence that autonomous vehicles are a safe and superior alternative to traditional cars. Barring a digital terrorist strike, they’ll likely be proven correct. However, skeptics will continue to remind people that driverless cars offer Google/Waymo parent company Alphabet all manner of new revenue streams. Self-driving cabs will rake in fares while privately owned “connected” cars provide all kinds of sellable data and advertising opportunities. Customers will also have more time to use web services when they aren’t busy driving.

 

The proposed trade-off is having the ability to relax, something which the video focused on extensively. After the novelty of riding in a vehicle that pilots itself wore off, practically all of the Waymo fares broke out their phones or started to nod off. While this is also possible in human-driven taxis, the company wants you to imagine the possibilities that extend beyond these borong activities — and not all of them have to be boring.

We’ve speculated in the past that the absence of a living operator could encourage passengers to engage in the absolute filthiest of human activities. An absence of watchful company makes a space feel more like your own. When questioned about the prospect of sexual activity in self-driving vehicles, Krafcik said he was unaware of any incidents thus far.

At any rate, Waymo is still pioneering the technology and remains a leader in the field. But the path for autonomous cars remains unclear. While the vehicles do boast added safety, practical assessments don’t expect them to reduce congestion or commute times. Likewise, they’ll only be profitable as a ride-hailing option once the associated technologies become cheaper than using the human alternative. In fact, the big money appears to be in personal data acquisition and in-car marketing — which doesn’t necessarily have to be linked to self-driving vehicles.

Waymo’s current business model involves sticking to ride-sharing and informing the public of the merits of computer-controlled vehicles. The company has expressed concern that the hardware required for autonomous driving could be too costly and impractical for the average consumer. “Because we see so much potential in shared mobility, the first way people will get to experience Waymo’s full self-driving technology will be as a driverless service,” Krafcik explained last November.

It also doesn’t manufacture cars, which would make direct ownership of its tech an impossibility unless it partners with an established automaker. Unlikely, considering most companies attempt to develop their own by purchasing smaller startups and adding the brainpower to their R&D programs. But Waymo doesn’t appear to have made its mind up on anything just yet.

“For us, having more people experience fully self-driving vehicles early is valuable,” Krafcik said at Web Summit 2017. “It will let us learn about how people want to use this technology — and those insights will inform our future work.”

[Image: Waymo]

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12 Comments on “Video: Google’s Waymo Exhibits the Total Lack of Excitement Inside Driverless Cars...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    TTAP: The Truth About Pods?

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Like it or not, for most people, fulfilling most-to-all of their transportation needs with driverless cars makes a lot of sense if the economics around the necessary equipment can be tamed. The current system of massive individual car ownership is extremely inefficient (in every way; space, cost, environmental impact, the works)

    • 0 avatar
      Kendahl

      One advantage of individual ownership is that the vehicle is always available. Ever try to get someplace by taxi during rush hour? If you don’t call well in advance, there won’t be one free when you need it. No matter who owns the ride share pool, they will have to balance easy availability during time of peak demand with the overhead of parked vehicles the rest of the time. The inevitable result will be shortages during rush hour.

      There will also be a loss of flexibility. Suppose you expect to leave work at 5 PM but something comes up at 4:50 that delays you half an hour. No problem if you own your ride. On the other hand, I doubt a ride share vehicle will be permitted to wait that long especially when doing so will delay riders who are scheduled after you.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        The model “UberPool” uses today would be just as viable for autonomous cars. (In some cities there are even pre-designated UberPool pickup spots.) Since none of the riders would own the car, there’s no need for a schedule set far in advance. You just summon the car when you are ready to go.

        If you make the price differential between the “Pool” option and riding in a vehicle by yourself high enough, you can provide enough availability given far fewer vehicles on the road than we have today.

        And if you combine all this with frequent express buses (with the autonomous cars simply acting like small shuttles to/from larger (and fewer) bus stops) things become even more viable.

        It still doesn’t solve the riddle of, say, visiting Grandma over Christmas when everybody else also wants to head out of town, but even the replacement of two family cars driven nearly every day to one car driven just on weekends and holidays isn’t a bad deal.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Who owns the liability?

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      In a civilized society, nobody in particular, unless someone is first found guilty of an actual crime, willful or negligent. In our ambulanceChaserTopia, no doubt whomever has the deepest pockets for well connected, unproductive leeches to pick.

  • avatar
    stuki

    Current hardware costs aside, another argument for keeping this to well maintained fleets; is that the tech evolves fast enough, and the benefits from each autonomous pod communicating amongst themselves in the full richness of the very latest “language” is great, even necessary, enough; that the benefit from constant updates of the entire fleet, is much greater than when people do the driving. Some tardy bubba, running last years protocol, in a poorly maintained car, can really gum up the works; compared to a situation where everyone is on the same page wrt coordination.

    If (and it’s still if rather than when) this does become pervasive, and stays that way for a long enough time, eventually the “problem of driving” may be “solved” to the degree that the necessary tech is commoditized, and any punter, in any car, can integrate with the rest of them without issue. But for now, the cars need all the help they can get at reducing the complexity of the environment they are expected to navigate.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    The perfect conveyance for vapid, risk averse snowflakes and their aging helicopter parents.

  • avatar
    sco

    Oh that’s great, it effortlessly transports people around the wide, empty streets of Scottsdale.

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