Clearly the frontrunner in the driverless car race, Waymo has test drove more than 2 million miles since February 2018. Waymo’s Chief Business Development Officer Shaun Steward announced on June 5 that the company’s fleet of autonomous vehicles would reach 7 million miles by the weekend.
Currently, Waymo is the only company with a fleet of fully self-driving cars on public roads. No one is sitting in the driver seats in these cars either. The Alphabet subsidiary has not been shy about their plans to launch the world’s first self-driving rideshare in Phoenix, Arizona later in 2018.
And Waymo doesn’t just want to conquer the US.
On June, during the annual Automotive News Europe Congress, Waymo CEO John Krafcik told participants in Turin, Italy that Waymo aims to expand to Europe, potentially offering a mobility service with a fully driverless car fleet in cooperation with a local partner. He added that his company would need to take a different approach on the continent due to key differences in the regulatory and policy environments. He added, “There’s an opportunity for us at Waymo to experiment here in Europe, with different product forms, with different products and maybe even with different go-to-market strategies.”
Waymo already has two prominent European partners.
One of their biggest partners is Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) which will be providing Waymo with one of the largest fleet orders ever recorded. In January, Waymo ordered thousands of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans for Waymo’s driverless rideshare fleet. The company has just ordered 62,000 more with delivery expected to begin in late 2018. The two companies have also announced the beginning of discussions regarding the use of Waymo self-driving technology in perhaps a FCA manufactured vehicle for retail consumers.
Also, Waymo is working with Jaguar to embed its software in the fully-electric Jaguar I-Pace model. I-Pace models which will eventually be the branded driverless robotaxi fleet for the Phoenix and the San Francisco Bay Area in California.
Up until now, most of the driverless testing has been in Arizona. For the testing phase, the company selected 400 passengers (out of 20,000 whom applied) that ranged in age from 9 to 69 and who were deliberately chosen to represent a wide variety of future riders. Through their experiences, Waymo has learned a number of things that might be useful when it does show up as a driverless rideshare.
· Learned they needed to do a better job of picking up passengers at the correct door of stores so that riders would not have to carry packages too far.
· On narrow streets, Waymo learned that passengers would rather cross the road to reach the car instead of the car going past the passenger, then turning around and coming back to pick up on the correct side.
· The company had to learn how to accommodate passengers with service animals.
· And they learned the best way to waken a sleeping passenger is with a little chime sound.
Soon, testing could begin in California as well. IEEE Spectrum reported in May that Waymo had been one of the first companies to apply to the DMV to test on public roads. According to the application obtained by IEEE Spectrum, Waymo plans to test 52 fully driverless vehicles, all Chrysler Pacific Hybrid minivans. The testing area would only be in an intensely mapped geofenced area of 50 square miles near its Mountain View headquarters.
On the application, Waymo indicated that their vehicles can handle most roads and parking lots, fog, light rain, night-time conditions and up to 65 mph speed limit. Their cars would seek ‘minimal risk conditions’ (which means stopping in or by the side of the road) if they encountered heavy rain, snow, ice, flooded roads, or off-road terrain.
For safety reasons, neither the remote operators nor passengers would be able to take control of the vehicle since the vehicle handles at the entire dynamic driving task at SAE Level 4 (5 is the highest).
Two teams monitor each car in service. Fleet Response Specialists possess valid driver’s licenses and using a virtual tool, the team is responsible for monitoring the status of the vehicle in real-time. The second team, Rider Support, provides any and all customer service.
No other company can touch Waymo currently and the company certainly has the early lead in this race to driverless. Intel predicted a year ago that self-driving vehicles would generate $800 billion per year in revenue by 2030. How much of that will be going to Waymo?
It seems Waymo is the unflashy turtle in the race who will find the finish line just fine.
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