Waymo Autonomous Fleet Hits 20 Million Mile Mark
Despite milestone, self-driving cars have a long way to go
While the jury is out regarding when autonomous vehicles will officially be put into commercial service, Waymo, a leading company in the production of driverless cars, declared its fleet officially surpassed 20 million miles of travel and testing on public streets and roads since its introduction 10 years ago.
Put in perspective, that’s the equivalent of covering the earth’s circumference at the equator more than 800 times, a milestone Waymo made public on Monday at the Consumer Electronics Show, running in Las Vegas until Friday.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik hinted during his announcement that it hasn’t been easy. Without the existence of an autonomous vehicle playbook to work from, it’s been sheer trial and error, ever since the company’s 2009 origins as a Google sideline venture dubbed Chauffeur.
The amount of changes and upgrades through testing contributed to Waymo hitting the 10-million mark in just less than nine years. But in the last year alone, the fleet managed to duplicate that effort, which resulted in the 20 million-mile milestone reached just recently. That’s not including an exponential number of virtual miles covered in simulations.
“You need to have a lot of real world experience,” said Krafcik in his summation of Waymo’s achievements. “There’s no way to avoid it.”
There may also be no way to avoid the inevitability that all vehicle may become autonomous, although the prognosis will likely be more of a later-than-sooner reality. As Forbes pointed out, conventional automakers are still wrapping their heads around transitioning from traditional car manufacturing to a domain that will be more technology-focused, which will hamper progress. Auto rentals for the most part are still playing the wait-and-see game over the viability of driverless cars.
Pundits are still questioning the safety of autonomous vehicles, especially with engineers still coming to grips with how the technology will actually work. Artificial intelligence has been inconsistent in bad weather, while there’s still the lack of what experts call a human touch to smoother performance. Additionally, some high-techs in the field have been known to silently admitting they still don’t fully understand how such a technology-driven car can drive flawlessly.
Undeterred, Waymo still plans to go commercial with its expanding fleet as soon as possible, even though most experts state that such a reality is at least 10 years away. Areas where they hope to make its service available for mainstream users include San Francisco and Phoenix, where much of Waymo’s testing has taken place.