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Waymo One: Autonomous Google cars now also without a safety driver

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S Self-driving cars are right at the top of the priority list in the development departments of software start-ups, technology groups and established car manufacturers. While simulations are being started and test vehicles are being sent to precisely defined road sections, Waymo is much further ahead.

Autonomous since 2012

Waymo was founded in 2016 as a subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet and took over the development work of the “Google Driverless Car” project. Four years earlier, in May 2012, Google in the US state of Nevada received its first approval from the authorities to operate autonomous cars on public roads. In the Toyota Prius used at the time, which were converted accordingly, there was always someone on board who could intervene in the action.

At the end of 2014, Google presented the first self-developed car without a steering wheel and pedals. The egg-shaped small cars caused an international sensation. A lot has happened in the meantime. Waymo has long outgrown the status of a testing department with a small fleet of prototypes. 75 self-driving minivans based on the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid have driven more than 525,000 kilometers on public roads in the USA. Since April 2, 2018, self-driving cars have been permitted on the roads in the state of California that no longer require a driver to be on board.

Even under adverse weather conditions, the autonomous cars have now had to assert themselves after allegations were made , you only test under perfect conditions. Now the company has released two videos showing driving in fog and a sandstorm. Because the vehicles rely on a combination of camera and radar, that's not a problem. The radar waves finally penetrate layers where the human eye - or a camera - can fail.

The Waymo fleet grows to over 82,000 cars

The Waymo car fleet is growing rapidly . In the first step, 1,500 more vans were ordered from Chrysler. Shortly thereafter, an agreement with Jaguar Land Rover was announced. The contract provides for the delivery of up to 20,000 electric Jaguar I-Pace by 2020, which Waymo will use as part of robot taxi fleets. The biggest hit was only a few weeks away. At the beginning of June 2018 there was a new major order for FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles): Waymo has ordered 62,000 more Chrysler Pacifica. In addition, FCA is granted access to the built-in technology for autonomous driving forown models.

'We don't want to be a car company.'

When building up the fleet of self-driving cars, Waymo deliberately seeks to join forces with established car manufacturers, the development and production of own models is not planned.

'As I found out, there is this hypothesis that Waymo wants to build cars,' explains company boss John Krafcik in an interview with Handelsblatt. “But we're not a car company, we're a technology company. We don't want to become a car company either. ”

In the same conversation, John Krafcik also makes it clear that Waymo and Google are separate companies under the umbrella of the Alphabet Holding. With this, he wants to counter the prevailing opinion that the existing automotive industry is to be made obsolete shortly.

“We were founded to act separately from Google (...). I have a feeling the reputation we have in the traditional auto industry is, these guys just want to revolutionize everything. But that's not our role. We see ourselves in the role of a trailblazer. “Waymo, for example, uses its own map technology that is not based on Google Maps.

Over 20,000 passengers in self-driving taxis

The most popular route for Waymo passengers in Phoenix: The way to work.

Not only the sheer size of the vehicle fleet, but also the use of Waymo's technology in everyday life shows that you can control the self-driving car under real conditions. A taxi service with Waymo vehicles has been in operation in Arizona since 2017. 400 passengers a day are brought to their destination by the driverless vans. Waymo has counted over 20,000 passengers so far. And only in Arizona, a single US state. At the latest when Waymo's business area is expanded to other regions, Waymo's driverless cars will no longer be just a gimmick, but a solid alternative in multi-layered transport systems. Then there will also be other providers. However, Waymo's lead should be sufficient to sustainably expand market leadership.

Now also without a safety driver

Without a safety driver, but probably not entirely without a watchdog: Waymo cars will drive (a little) more autonomously in the future.

An important step for Waymo is the approval of level 5 trips in autonomous cars in the US state of California. There are stricter rules for the operation of self-driving cars than in Arizona.

In the future, Waymo will be the first company to be allowed to send vehicles on California's roads that no longer have a safety driver on board. So far, the human watchdogs were still on board, especially when paying passengers were being carried. That seems to be changing now. In an email that Waymo users in Phoenix received, the Google subsidiary announced that in the future, cars without safety drivers will also take over journeys. Important: That doesn't have to mean that there are no Waymo employees on board at all. At least there will be no drivers behind the wheel. Waymo still leaves the exact setup open.

Artificial intelligence on board

Technical developments in the field of artificial intelligence play a major role at Waymo. The current taxi fleet collects large amounts of data that can be used to analyze customer behavior and improve service. Which destinations do the passengers want to go to? With what choice of words do you use voice control? How do you behave in the car? If the majority of the passengers are nervous and jumpy, the computer may in future choose a gentler driving style to dispel doubts about the system's responsiveness. Self-learning computers on board the cars can also plan diversion routes for temporary construction sites or automatically create an emergency lane for emergency vehicles in a traffic jam.

Waymo is also testing in Europe

Waymo fleet at the FCA test site in Balocco, Italy.

An expansion to Europe is an integral part of Waymo's future plans. At the beginning of June - in camera - the first test drives in the old world began. The course in Balocco, Italy, a test site run by FCA, served as a test track.

Waymo's great technological lead also serves as a plaster for old wounds. Waymo has been in legal dispute with the transport service provider Uber for several years. Waymo has sued the company after moving to Uber. The allegation: Uber used secret documents from Waymo for its own development purposes.

A possible claim for damages or an out-of-court settlement, which according to insiders could amount to a billion dollars, is in the room. Unimpressed by this, Uber has now publicly brought a possible collaboration between the two companies into play. One can imagine the use of Waymo technology for its own fleet of self-driving cars, for which Uber relies on hardware from Volvo.

Cooperation with Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi?

Nissan is working on various mobility services in Japan . Waymo could help with autonomous cars.

In addition to the collaboration between Waymo and Jaguar and Fiat-Chrysler, another collaboration is emerging. As the Japanese business newspaper “Nikkei” and the “Handelsblatt” report, negotiations with the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance are in full swing.

According to rumors, there could be a deal and a deal in spring 2019 appropriate announcement of the partnership. Via the brands Nissan and Mitsubishi, Waymo would have more than one foot in the door to the Japanese market.

Sale of lidar technology

According to media reports, Waymo also wants to start selling hardware it has developed itself.The company could pass on lidar technology to selected customers. This is primarily intended to ensure that the company's own production facilities are fully utilized.

However, according to a report by the US website 'The Car Connection', Waymo does not want to supply direct competitors, i.e. providers of mobility services with automated vehicles. Automotive suppliers and car manufacturers should therefore be among the potential customers. The advantage for Waymo: Its own technology can thus be quickly scaled to the industry standard.

From a current perspective, Waymo does not only seem miles ahead of all competitors in the field of autonomous driving. The Google sister company, with its lead in experience and the sheer size of the planned vehicle fleet, should continue to be the technology leader in the future. So you could emulate the sister company. Just as Google has long since become a generic term for search engines and the search for information on the Internet (“googling”), Waymo can in future stand for the self-driving car.


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