back to article Look, ma! No hands! Waymo to test true self-driving cars in US with Uber-style hailing app

Google stablemate Waymo has begun testing its self-driving cars on the mean streets of Phoenix, Arizona, without a single driver at the wheel. The organization ultimately wants people to request these fully autonomous vehicles on demand from an app, Uber-style. Chief exec John Krafcik today told the WebSummit conference in …

  1. Oneman2Many

    Phoenix, an area bigger than greater London but 1/5th the population. So basically driving around on half empty roads ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      And vastly less complicated/congested/cluttered at that.

      It would be somewhat concerning if he actually believes that area is a measure of difficulty for autonomous cars.

    2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Even though Phoenix has lower traffic density than many cities it is important to get self driving cars out in the wild to find out what the bugs are. There has to be a first major trial in a real city somewhere.

      1. Citizens untied

        Only in so far as there HAS to be autonomous vehicles in the first place.

      2. strum Silver badge

        >There has to be a first major trial in a real city somewhere.

        And if it phucks up in Phoenix?

      3. J. Cook Silver badge

        One of the areas that has been used for testing is downtown Tempe (one of the satellite cities in the Metro Phoenix area), which houses Arizona State University. Lots of traffic in that down town area, and some fiddly streets to navigate around to boot.

    3. R3sistance

      And the issue is? Would you rather start first test in central New York/London/Tokyo or in somewhere with much lighter traffic? Lighter traffic would seem to be preferable as vehicles will be more likely to actually travel at speed rather than just being an expensive brick. Also more dense situations do require stronger hardware, so would be easier in a less dense area for testing while hardware is still being developed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Would you rather start first test in central New York/London/Tokyo or in somewhere with much lighter traffic?

        Start with London. A disgusting, overcrowded s***hole, which needs a severe culling of the peasants and knobs alike. Absent a suitable plague, I'll settle for self driving cars to reduce the humans.

    4. J. Cook Silver badge

      Greater Phoenix driver here, and I can say 'Well... Sort of."

      The central Phoenix area (aka downtown) is pretty jammed during business days during the start of rush hour (~5 am or thereabouts) to early evening (~8-9 pm) most days, unless there's a sports event or something else going on. then it can be moderate traffic until midnight.

      The outer cites (Tempe, Socttsdale, Glendale, Mesa, etc.) each have a similar downtown area with similar traffic density issues. (Mesa is especially egregious because they plonked a bloody rail line down the middle of it for our mass transit system.)

      During the day time outside of rush hour, the feeder streets are largely empty, and the main thoroughfares have light to moderate traffic on them.

      The freeways combine the 'fish in a barrel' density of California roads, the 'devil may care' attitude of New York drivers, and the 'I'm too old to be driving but I'll be safe in the leftmost lane' insanity of seasonal drivers and tourists. I don't think a machine would stand a chance in that zoo.

      The main strength we have is that our streets are laid out in a mostly grid arrangement, with a few exceptions for topology and the odd railroad line that existed before the city became a sprawling metropolis.

      I know that Waymo's main competitor, Uber, has been driving their little fleet of autonomous cars in a set pattern around the Tempe area. I've not really been paying attention, but the code that runs them seems to be competent enough, and the drivers appear to be largely polite or at least disinterested around them.

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  3. GBE

    What's the point of "truley human-free" cars?

    Right now, it appears they have someone inside during trips – either a passenger, a Waymo engineer, or both – but it's hoped they can be truly human-free in the near future.

    The purpose of cars is to haul humans around. What's the point of hoping cars will soon be "truly human-free" (IOW sans passengers)?

    1. Citizens untied

      Re: What's the point of "truley human-free" cars?


    2. Rebel Science

      Re: What's the point of "truley human-free" cars?

      In the future, most vehicles on the road will be transporting cargo.

      1. DainB Bronze badge

        Re: What's the point of "truley human-free" cars?

        Passengers already called self loading freight in aviation industry.

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: What's the point of "truley human-free" cars?

      At the moment large numbers of Volvos and Subarus have to be driven around to transport Labradors. With self driving technology these animals will be able to visit their favorite parks without needing human chauffeurs

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: What's the point of "truley human-free" cars?


        Just as soon as we develop robotic poo-bags handlers.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's the point of "truley human-free" cars?

      You haven't seen the movie Cars, have you?

  4. Rebel Science

    Autonomous cars are based on deep learning, an old, annoyingly inadequate, baby-boomer technology from the last century. Just one little unsupervised learning breakthrough can force deep learning to become obsolete overnight. Suddenly, a bunch of highly paid AI experts are about as valuable as horse buggy mechanics. Not funny, I know. But life can come at you faster than you think.

    1. ratfox Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Who told you that self-driving cars are based on deep learning? From what I understand, the technology is far more boring than that, all rule-based and algorithms...

  5. Captain DaFt

    Sounds fishy

    "Two years ago, the biz completed a fully self-driving trip on public roads, when a blind man traveled from a park to a doctor’s office without anyone in the driver’s seat."

    If he was blind, how did he know there was no one in the driver's seat? The driver could have been mute. ☺

    And worryingly, if it was driverless, was the blind guy originally intending to go to the doctor? Or had to go after the accident? ☺

    Kidding aside, would it have hurt to include a link?

    1. VinceH Silver badge

      Re: Sounds fishy

      "If he was blind, how did he know there was no one in the driver's seat? The driver could have been mute."

      If you switch out mute and replace it with deaf, I think I've seen that documentary.

  6. Tim Seventh

    The minimum requirements

    "There will be an emergency stop button for a passenger to hit, just in case."

    They should also include an emergency physical handbrake, just in case the software stop button bugged out.

    1. Sirius Lee

      Re: The minimum requirements

      Yes, let some idiot put on the brakes in the middle of a highway. No possibility of a catastrophe in that scenario then.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: The minimum requirements

      They should also include an emergency physical handbrake, just in case the software stop button bugged out.

      I think the technical phrase is "an anchor"

  7. unwarranted triumphalism

    Will they deliberately drive on the pavement they do here?

  8. teknopaul Silver badge

    killer app

    I still think that the killer app for driverless vehicles is gonna be trucks with a driver that pilot out of the depot sign off on the digital taco and start reading a book until their final destination or next port. All the tricky stuff done by a human. Makes no sense in the U.K. but anywhere truck journeys are over 8 hours long this application has got to be a money earner for everyone. Even truck drivers.

    Drivers will probably sit at the wheel in that cumfy chair anyway so accident rate will be low.

    Taxis is just publicity.

  9. tiggity Silver badge

    Clean up crew

    When they switch to no Waymo engineer, so just passengers only, there might need to be a cleanliness check between rides.

    Given some of the amorous behavior that goes on in taxis with a driver, scope for all sorts of mess when no driver to put a stop to passenger hanky panky (or alternatively accept a few quid to "turn a blind eye").

    Big drawback of driver less taxis is inability to pay via gash machine after a night out when you have run out of cash

    1. R3sistance

      Re: Clean up crew

      Presumably these cars will have an interior camera but night time drunks will probably still do that kind of thing.

      As far as cash goes, then payment could probably be handled automatically via the App/phone. Until we see it in the wild tho, can not be certain.

  10. My other car is an IAV Stryker
    Thumb Up

    "Super Cali ... Arizona" subtitle

    Still got the right number of syllables -- nicely done!

    (Especially to musically-inclined folk like this humble percussionist. Rhythms matter.)

  11. /dev/null

    "... instead, it's hoped, the code will take care of such situations automatically"

    I think we need more than just hope here. What if it doesn't? Will it slam on the brakes wherever the car might be, say, in the outside lane of a busy motorway? Then what? Wait for someone to turn it off and turn it on again?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Red Light?

    Having lived in Phoenix for many years, I wonder how the vehicles handle red light runners? In Phoenix, a red light indicates there's not much time left to get through the intersection.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Red Light?

      Obviously - fit guns

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