Waymo’s driverless car: ghost-riding in the back seat

Waymo’s driverless car: ghost-riding in the back seat


(enticing music) – Hey it’s Andy with “The Verge.” I’m about to go for a ride in one of Waymo’s fully driverless cars, here in Phoenix, Arizona. As you can see, there is
no driver in the front. I’m not nervous. Are you nervous? I’m not nervous. Here we are, riding in a minivan with nobody in the front
seat, with pedestrians, and cyclists and other
vehicles out on a public road. It’s a surreal experience. Google has been working
on self-driving cars for over 10 years now. In 2016, Google spun out its project as a separate company called Waymo. And since then, it’s been
testing hundreds of vehicles here in Arizona, mostly for an Uber-like
ride hailing service called Waymo One. Few years ago, I had the chance to ride in one of Waymo’s
driverless vehicles, but it was on a private enclosed course. And since then, most of
the trips that Waymo does in its autonomous vehicles, including the one that we took last year, have trained safety drivers
in the front seat, until now. It says, “Good morning, Waymo rider. “Our destination is Baby
Kay’s Cajun Kitchen.” It’s asking me to start
the ride, so let’s do that. – [Waymo Car Voice] Heading
to Baby Kay’s Cajun Kitchen. Please make sure your
seat belt is fastened. – All right, so we’re pulling out of this parking lot right now
and onto a public road. Oh, there goes another Waymo car. As you can see, we’re in
the Waymo central here. They just waved to us. I don’t think they knew
that maybe wasn’t anybody in the front seat there. And then we just made a right-hand turn, and changed lanes into the center lane. It’s very natural. So here comes some
construction right here, which is very challenging
for self-driving cars. And it kind of handled it
with really no problem at all. It slowed down a bit,
now it’s changing lanes. And it just kinda breezed
past that construction site there as if it was being driven
by a human, quite honestly. This is our destination. Nothing really eventful to speak of. Now, it’s coming back right now, and we’re gonna take it for a ride back to where we came from,
which is the Watershed. Waymo was nice enough to let
us choose the pick up spot and the destination for where we’re going. We had to vet it with them first, but still, it’s nice to know that there’s a little bit
of dynamic decision making going on here with this car. I’ll get in first, if you don’t mind. All our stuff is still here. That’s great. We can trust these robots. This time I’m gonna
press the button up here on the headliner, which is another way that we can get the car to get going. That was a pretty nice acceleration there, not as cautious as you maybe expect. It felt very organic. Yeah, that’s really, really weird, seeing the steering wheel
move on its own like that. I like the notice on
the steering wheel, too. It says, do not touch
steering wheel or pedals, the vehicle will pull over. As sort of a warning to anyone that might try to mess
with the driverless car. Looks like we’re gonna be taking a right-hand turn here on Henkel, which looks like it’s gonna be into some bit of residential area. So away from the more heavily
traffic commercial zone that we are in and into a
more of a residential zone. Interesting. So it looks like we’re making
a bit of a routing correction. We’re going back the way we
came, and the car is making some adjustments into the
route that it’s choosing. Obviously, we’ll allow that. (laughs) We have to make some allowances for a car with nobody in the front seat. It’ll be interesting to
see how Waymo smooths out some of those things,
though, going forward, as this becomes a service that
is available to more people. And it looks like we’re gonna be turning into the left turning lane as
we approach our destination. And this is the part where I get a selfie for my own purposes. I’m about to take a left turn
in a fully driverless car. – [Waymo Car] Arriving
shortly at Watershed. – We did it! And we’re making our way
slowly around the parking lot to drop us off at the
entrance to The Watershed. And then we’ll be done and we
will say goodbye to our Waymo. Oh, it stopped for the
pigeons, you love to see it. You absolutely love to see
them stopping for the pigeons. No other company is testing
fully driverless vehicles at the scale and speed that Waymo is. The company has trained
its AI with a vast data set of images and driving scenarios. It has a highly detailed
high-def map of the whole area down to the centimeter. It took Waymo a decade
to get to this point, where it felt confident
enough in the safety of its technology to pull
drivers out of the driver seat. But, you know, only for
a tightly controlled 50 square mile area, mostly suburban and mostly dry conditions, with
a pretty basic road layout. And these vehicles aren’t
totally alone in the wilderness. Waymo has a team of remote employees that watch the real time feed from each of the vehicle’s eight cameras, and can help with the touch of a button if the software runs into a tricky spot and needs a human eye to figure it out. – These folks don’t joystick
the car or anything like that, but they can help answer
specific questions that a car might have about
an ambiguous situation. And that’s where human intuition
and human understanding of the entire context is super important. Like that moving van, is
it really staying there? Or is it about to start driving? Well, if the door’s down and they’re unloading
a lamp out of the back, it’s gonna be there for a while. That’s not something we’ve
gotten around to making the car smart enough to understand,
but a human sees it in a moment and can send that signal. So it’s not really a command to the car, it’s just adding information. – [Andy] When you think
about self-driving cars, you probably picture something
from like “Minority Report” or “Total Recall.” – Drive! – Fully driverless cars with
no one in the front seat, or maybe no front seat at all, or a steering wheel for that matter. While Waymo’s driverless vehicles are getting us closer
to that imagined future, there’s still a lot going
on behind the scenes that we don’t see. I mean, the level of production required for each of these driverless
vehicles is immense. Sensors, cameras, compute, AI, remote assistance
operators, fleet managers. Experts estimate that each
self-driving test vehicle could cost $400,000 alone. And that’s just taking into
account the sensors and compute. Is all of that really worth it? Waymo seems to think so. I mean, human beings are terrible drivers. The vast majority of vehicle
crashes, like over 90% are because of mistakes
made by human drivers. Self-driving cars could be safer, but we really just don’t know yet. There just aren’t enough
of them on the road to really prove that out. So we’ll have to wait, until they bust out beyond this tiny section
of suburban Arizona and to a much larger and more dangerous and more complex world before we know whether self-driving cars are
really worth all this effort. If you’d rather see a
video about electric cars, we just did a drive with
Porsche’s new all electric Taycan outside of L.A., in the mountains. It was a gorgeous video. I highly recommend you check
it out at youtube.com/theverge.

100 comments

  1. People don't understand this fully, despite what you see in this video (which is impressive) is that we are actually still decades away from truly driverless cars…

  2. Saw waymo in DTLA, Are they gonna switch them to all electric vehicles? Does Google have plans to make flying cars cuz I'm waymo re into that?

  3. last time i saw one of these videos there was a emergency takeover driver on the driver seat, but not this tym………..have they perfected the autonomous driving tech?

  4. It’s almost impossible to incorporate driverless cars with non driverless cars, if they have a city or town with only driverless cars, I think that would be quite easy to do

  5. When entering a construction zone with a posted reduced speed limit, will the driver-less vehicle automatically make the adjustment, or is it done by one of the persons monitoring the vehicle?

  6. Automation kills jobs. When will it end? Now they are removing cashiers from restaurants and having YOU place your own order. I will not use these auto cars or restaurants with no cashiers. Take a STAND. If we don’t use it, they won’t make it.

  7. I don’t get. On the one hand I hear a lot of experts say that driverless cars are many many years in the future. But on the other hand I see videos like this…

  8. Too much video of us watching you talk inside the car. Show us the view outside while it's making manoeuvers.

    Couldn't you rent another vehicle to do follow shots?

  9. I assume Waymo pre-plan and heavily map their routes so it becomes a "routine" drive. You can have an unlimited number of variables where a human needs to take over, eg. traffic officer directing traffic with hand gestures, traffic lights malfunction, drivers yielding to each other etc. In Europe the roads can be narrow and there's usually a lot of "I wait" or "you go first" and vice versa. I can tell if an authorized person is holding a stop sign or not – but could a self-driving car ever know?

  10. 4:36 ”No other company is testing driverless car technology at the speed and scale that Waymo is” Yeah, Tesla is doing it at a much bigger scale.

  11. But why are these cars have to look like the have tumors all over them? Are these sensor that much more advanced than the one from Tesla?

  12. 'Before we know if self-driving cars are really worth all this effort'. Of course they are! Of course they will get safer than humans. This really is purely a question of the timeframe. Once a computer learns to handle a specific tricky situation, it will always handle that situation perfectly. It's just a question of getting them used to all tricky situations possible

  13. I'd want someone in the driver's seat who can take over at any moment if the AV tech on board either stops working, or can't deal with the situation at hand. I don't quite trust the technology yet.

  14. How would they handle a disaster, like fires, floods or earthquakes? We had a massive series of quakes several years ago that moves some roads several meters up, down and/or sideways making GPS-based navigation useless. In some places the only way though was along a footpath, through a park, or even up someone's driveway. I just don't ever see AI being flexible enough to handle that sort of scenario.

  15. How do you tell it where to stop in a car park? Or where in your drive to park so you can unload your shopping more easily?

  16. Do they use the same maps as google navigation? How do they go with turning across main arterial roads in peak hour? Android auto sometimes wants me to turn across one and there's no chance it's going to happen. I've always wondered if autonomous cars are going to have trouble with it. You'd think they could work it into the programming where they're detecting how many cars are using the main road and realise it's not a good time to try to turn across it.

  17. you have been identified as a public dissident doors are locked you are being transported to the nearest interrogation facility

  18. I hope they will branch out from individual transport into mass transit problems, because driverless cars transporting single humans are still using the same amount of fuel and road space as a car with a driver

  19. so? nothing new. this is probably the same area they are driving in for some time. and only that area. its not a generalized solution

  20. If you put that much effort into driver education, it would be better spent. Humans aren’t terrible drivers, they can perceive and intuit a lot more than bots. And they can operate reliably in a wide variety of environments and conditions. They just don’t necessarily develop their skills beyond basic testing, and get lazy.

  21. great content as usual, I have a new channel with my new video on Elon Musk who crashed his cybertruck in Malibu. check it out and leave a comment and give me some support.

  22. One key point in driverless car I think is how orderly the roads and cars are in country like the States and other developed countries. Not sure how it would turns out in developing country with messy traffic and obstacles.

  23. It’s kinda odd seeing Google act like Apple and extremely safely test self driving cars. While Tesla is acting like Google and letting anyone use self driving and just improve the AI.

  24. This is a 3 mile trip and approximately ~ 7 minutes to destination. The road to Baby Kays is just a straight shot from the Watershed. Don’t be fooled with this video .

  25. Driverless Robots ( Car) are quite possible now on national Highways..but for city rides needs more test drives.,👍

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