Waymo recently hosted a number of journalists at its private Castle testing compound, and treated us to rides with no safety driver behind the wheel – now, the former Google self-driving car company is going farther still, however, launching public road tests of its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans with no safety driver on board.
The tests aren’t limited to one or two routes, either; the test area where the truly driverless trials are being conducted is in Chandler, Arizona (part of the greater Phoenix metro area), and the cars are able to go anywhere within this defined space. It’s hard to understate the importance of this milestone: Waymo is operating at full Level 4 autonomy, sharing public roads with human-driven cars and pedestrians, with no one at the wheel able to take over in case things don’t go as planned.
All my friends live at least an hour’s drive away from where I live (assuming no traffic, which is a big assumption in The Netherlands). That’s not a long drive by standards of large countries, but for us, it is, and since it basically comes down to a boring drive over a few boring highways in a boring part of the country, it’s mind-numbingly tedious.
I can’t wait until I can just sit down on the backseat of my car, tell it to drive to Amsterdam or wherever else my friends live, and just chill for an hour with some YouTube or webbrowsing. I know we’re not there yet, but I hope I can at least experience that at one point in my life.
The thing I find interesting about all of this is the number of people who want no part of it, claiming “it’s not safe” or “I don’t trust computers to do this”.
Both claims are equally warranted about human drivers, arguably more so in many cases; especially in the US, where you don’t have to do anything except show up to get a driver’s license renewed (except for commercial ones I think), and it takes some pretty egregious offenses to get it revoked, at which point it’s usually just suspended, not permanently revoked.