In the last article What’s what in 2020 with AV, I indicated that there were two big players to watch; Waymo and Tesla. This article is about Waymo and their history and will lay the foundation for the next article.
Waymo is a division of Alphabet formed in 2016. It was formally the Google self-driving project and had run for seven years. Waymo is apparently an abbreviation of “Way Forward in Mobile” (…but using the same linguistic logic it could equally and ironically be called “FOMO”.)
We associate the early days of Waymo with the “Firefly”; a custom-built car but this only came out in 2015. The Firefly was a milestone as it had no steering wheel or pedals.
Prior to the Firefly, Google had already experimented with Toyota Priuses in 2009 and the Lexus RX45h in 2012. The Firefly was retired in 2017 and they have since used Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans.
There is a great TED Talk by Chris Urmson from 2015 that goes through their progress.
Two things strike me; how little progress appears to have been made since 2015 and it appears that at the time they were programming “if then else” statements into the code.
This is alluded to in the video at…
Going down the path of an “IF THEN ELSE” code base is a slippery slope. There are an infinite number of IFs and you find yourself painted into a corner with the ELSE statement.
It may be for this reason, that Waymo around this time became super serious about AI.
Waymo has been testing the Phoenix area since early 2017 under the moniker of the “Early Rider” program – providing free rides to a group of about 400 pre-vetted people around a 100 square mile area. Then in October 2018, Waymo started “Waymo One”, a paid, driverless, ride hailing service to an even smaller subset of the people in the Early Rider program and in an even smaller area of 50 square miles that apparently does not include freeways.
The Verge has done a great job of tracking their progress:
If you watch the Waymo videos, it would suggest that they are everywhere, and everyone can use them at any time.
Late last year Waymo started trials in California for Google/Alphabet/Waymo employees only.
Waymo releases information to the public very, very carefully. In reading these articles I can’t help but feel in the background there is a 200-page project risk register that casts a shadow over everything they do and say.
But they have autonomous vehicles taking paying passengers on trips. So, the future is bright and Waymo is the winner?
…not so fast.
Putting aside the fact that the Early Rider and Waymo One trials have been paused because of the Coronavirus pandemic, when you scratch the surface you start to see the duct tape and chewing gum that is holding all this together.
And that is the basis of the next article...