Wednesday's rollout of Waymo One, Waymo's commercial self-powered taxi service, far exceeds expectations the company set earlier in the year.
At the end of September, a Waymo spokeswoman told Ars by e-mail that the Phoenix service would be completely driver-free and open to members of the public requirements I reported in this article.
We now know that Waymo One will not be the full driver. There will be a driver in the driver's seat. And Waymo One is open to the public in the narrowest, most technical sense: initially it will only be available to early riders ̵[ads1]1; the same people who have participated in Waymo's test program for months.
This seems to be the last sign that Waymo's technology goes slower than many expected – including Waymo's own leadership a year ago. People who have observed Waymos vehicles on public roads in recent months report that cars still struggle with unprotected leftovers, mergers and other difficult situations.
Waymo is generally the industry leader. The company started working on self-propelled technology in 2009, long before most other technologies and car companies began to take it seriously. So if Waymo is not ready to start a completely driverless service after more than 18 months of intense public testing, it should make us skeptical about the demands of other companies that they will be ready to start fully self-propelled technology anytime soon.
Waymo One is barely public service
The launch of Waymo One feels less like the launch of a public, commercial service than a rebranding of the test program. Waymo promised to start a commercial service before the turn of the year, and Waymo One qualifies technically. But the service seems almost no more open to the public than the early rider Waymo had last week.
In a phone call from Thursday, a Waymo spokeswoman refused to tell me how many customers had registered for Waymo One on the first day or how many trips they had taken. If many were enrolled, you would expect some of them to post pictures or videos on social media, but 48 hours after the official launch, I have not found any sign that people use Waymo One – nor have other people.
I'm sure Waymo tells the truth when it says that it has invited "hundreds" of early riders to switch to Waymo One, and I suppose at least a handful of people have registered.
Waymo left plans for a completely driverless launch
I was not the only reporter told that Waymo's first commercial service would be completely driverless.
In March The New York Times reported that Waymos Phoenix Service would start with Waymo "was going to move quickly with a driver-free tour service for the public because it was safe that the vehicles could operate safely in almost any driving environment where they would be taken into use, " Times Neal Boudette wrote. The same article said that Waymo expected to be "giving as many as a million rides a day" by the end of 2019.
But in recent months, Waymo seems to have lost confidence in his completely driverless operation. Information Society Amir Efrati reported last week that "due to concerns about safety, the alphabet put the company so-called" safety drivers "behind the wheel of its most advanced prototypes."
It's really not clear if completely driveless vehicles have always been a significant part of Waymo's test activities. According to an August story of Efrati, the completely driverless tests have typically been "in relatively small residential areas in Chandler, Arizona, where there is little traffic."
It's square with the experience of Ryan Randazzo, a reporter of Arizona Republic who has covered Waymo in the past two years. Because he is based in the Phoenix area, he can regularly observe Waymo vehicles in action and talk to others in the area of the cars, including three days in October and November as he followed Waymo vehicles to see how they perform.
"I do not know anyone ever saw a driver without driver" since Waymo first announced driverless testing in November 2017, he told Ars. "I have asked five different ways – what percentage of rides [are driverless] – they will not answer that question."
Waymo cars struggle with difficult situations
During October and November Randazzo spent three days observing Waymos cars in action – either by following them on the roads or halting the company's depot in Chandler. He published his findings in a YouTube video. The findings suggest that Waymo vehicles are not ready for complete autonomous operation.
"Lane changes seem to be a problem for the cars," said Randazzo in the video. When attempting to move into a crowded runway, a Waymo car seemed to lack a human driver's ability to anticipate other drivers' actions and hugs Instead, the vehicle will turn on the turn signal and wait for a few seconds for an opening to appear. If one did not arrive, it would turn off the turn signal and wait a while before trying again.
"It actually took this car almost a and a half to switch lanes here, "said Randazzo." We talked to someone who uses these vehicles around East Valley. He said they sometimes miss their turn, they are so hesitant. "
In another event, a Waymo car was part of a line of cars approaching a junction where a car accident blocked the right path. The human The drivers saw the problem far ahead and started shifting to the left lane. The Waymo car continued right and just started trying to reconnect as there were some lows away from the traffic jams. The car then broke the left joint and instead went straight into a turnway Randazzo speculates that this was the human security driver who took over the vehicle.
A video was posted on YouTube in September, showing that a Waymo vehicle is struggling to merge onto a freeway in California.
According to Information Efrati Waymo has struggled to turn from a low-speed street to a major boulevard. This is also a problem Washington Post observed during a recently tested Waymo test. Post reported that "left turns can be painfully slow" when they turn to a major traffic partner.
With such challenges it is not surprising that Waymo chose to keep safety drivers in their cars. And to be done, I'm not wrong Waymo to do this. On the contrary, they deserve credit to put safety first. However, if Waymo has stopped testing with completely driveless vehicles – and there is a lot of evidence they have – it would be nice if Waymo would come public with this.
And if SelfModerm-long is considered industry the leader struggles to roll out completely car-free cars, it can be a cause of skepticism that rivals will achieve the performance anytime soon. We will see more and more self-propelled cars on our roads. But it may take a while before we see those who are completely driverless.