The state of California opened up their roads to Self-Driving as of the first of April 2018. Unfortunately, this date coincided with the Uber accident in Tempe, Arizona and most of the Self-Driving companies did not sign up when expected. This led to a lot of speculation that was finally brought to a close last week.
Waymo, the Alphabet division that develops Self-Driving technology has confirmed it has submitted their application to the Californian DMV and intends to test their driverless cars in the state. Another company also submitted a request but is remaining anonymous for the moment. (I speculate its either Apple or Cruise).
Waymo will initially test their fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans around their Mountain View headquarters. The Pacifica fleet has been tested in other states, so Waymo most probably feels confident in their capabilities to perform well in California.
Waymo is not an impulsive company, they test all their cars on an area with drivers at first, after mapping in the driving data in real time, they then let the fleet drive under computer control.
According to Waymo CEO John Krafcik, the accidents that befell both Uber and Tesla would not have happened to Waymo. The Uber crash showed that the driver was not watching the road, and the Tesla crash was not a real Self-Driving but an auto-pilot mode, which requires a driver to watch the car and road as well. Autopilot is considered a major step in the direction of Self-Driving but shows how far behind Tesla is in this race. When asked a week after the Uber accident, Krafick told the press that "We have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one."
Waymo first started to develop Self-Driving in 2009. While it was not the first company, it was the most successful, and it has tested over 5 million miles of driverless steered cars since 2009, 2 million of those miles were tested in California.
Due to Waymo's initiative and success, a lot of new companies emerged as well as automakers that decided to integrate Self-Driving into their infrastructure. Waymo also developed a fully operational Self-Driving Vehicle "bubble" car that came with no driver seat, but only four "passenger" seats. The state of California would not allow testing of that vehicle on the roads without safety control features allowing a human to take control. In the new regulations, the DMV has allowed such cars to be tested, so we expect Waymo to allow their "bubble" AV's to operate on the roads as well as the Pacifica fleet.
The State of California has opened up fully autonomous driving from April 2nd, 2018. Only two companies applied for the license and had requested from one of the applicants to complete missing information. Requests will not be automatically approved, and there is no definite time line for approving requests.
The application process requires that applicants list in which cities they intend to test their vehicles. The cities police departments will then express either their consent or denial for such a request, till now, all the cities have notified the DMV that they are happy for Waymo to work within their limits. Those do not come as a surprise since these are all cities that Waymo has tested its AV's in before.
One city councilwoman from Los Altos, Jeannie Bruins told the media that AV "is going to be crucial in helping the Silicon Valley reach its safety and transportation goals." While Mountain View City Manager Dan Rich explained that "Waymo has done extensive vehicle testing on our local streets with a good safety record."
Sunnyvale, Mayor Glenn Hendricks also told the media that he anticipates seeing the Waymo AV's on his cities streets.
The final decision maker is the DMV, and the public is still wary of AV driving in fully autonomous mode due to the recent crashes. Jim McPherson, a Lawyer from Benicia and the guy behind SafeSelfDrive consultancy, explained to the media that "Ultimately it is not Krafcik's confidence in AV readiness that should matter; it should be the DMV's confidence, based on objective data, studies, and verifiable tests."
McPherson refers to the DMV's required disengagement reports that use a KPI metric to rate the performance of AV mode. This KPI is disengagement per mile, which means, how many miles before the safety driver have to take control of the vehicle. The KPI does not state what requirements are used to set a precedent and, in most cases, these factors will differ per company. However, the report shows a stunning difference between Waymo and Uber. Waymo's KPI was triggered once evert 5,600 miles, while Uber's was triggered once every 13 miles. No matter what you factor in, this is a major difference. Just based on these figures, McPherson states that "If that rate still holds today, and if Waymo deploys 100 cars that drive 50 miles per day, then there will be an average of one disengagement somewhere in Mountain View every day. Let's all hope no one gets hurt."
The new application will make the KPI factors known since they demand to know what will be included in the disengagement trigger.
Another requirement set by the DMV is a speed limit of 65 mph and that they can drive in light rain and fog. However, they cannot drive in hard rain or snow.
Another control feature is the requirement that all vehicles have a remote controller that is connected to the cars electronic and can take over control at any given moment. This is mandatory for road construction sites and accident sites. Although Waymo has no intention of remote controlling their cars, they will monitor them remotely. The only time they will intervene is to give an AV direction how to operate when an AV sends a request for help in a difficult situation. Waymo will then send commands to the software how to operate within the situation, but will not take over control of the vehicle; this will remain in the "hands" of the AV.
Waymo has proven to be a very stable and professional company that follows strict internal safety rules. Unlike the expeditionary and reckless Uber, Waymo has built up confidence in their peers and regulators as well as maintaining a solid public image. They are already a few months in full AV mode in Phoenix Arizona and so far, seem to be the leaders in a successful fully autonomous vehicle operation solution.