- Waymo's autonomous vehicles (AVs) are experiencing a number of technical difficulties that could delay the expected launch of its driverless taxi fleet this year, according to The Information.
- People with knowledge of the company's AV testing near Phoenix tell The Information that human safety operators often have to regain control of vehicles when they're in driverless mode. A number of locals near the testing site report frustration with the vehicles, especially at a simple "T" intersection nearby where the AVs frequently struggle, in addition to trouble with turning, merging, stopping short and understanding flashing lights for traffic metering.
- In response to the news report, Waymo asked for patience, stated a commitment to safety and reiterated the intent to launch a driverless taxi service by the end of this year, according to Silicon Republic.
Nearly any new innovation is met with some level of criticism, and those where computers do the jobs of humans often take a higher level of heat. Just as when new businesses open and have some kinks to work out, first iterations of technology often need fixes and updates before they're widely adopted.
Safety glitches, however, aren't something that many people have tolerance for. It's one thing for an AV to create a simple traffic nuisance by not merging when there are opportunities, but it's another for a vehicle to stop short mid-turn, which easily can create an accident or even a chain reaction.
Uber's deadly AV crash in Arizona earlier this year underscored the importance of adequate testing and implementing safety measures. But it also highlighted the idea of not rushing to be first at the expense of human safety. Finding the right balance can be difficult for tech companies that want the recognition of being first to release a transformative technology — à la Apple introducing the first mass-consumed modern smartphone — but obvious shortcomings could end up being more disastrous for the product and company in the long run.
If the technical difficulties with Waymo's AVs are as extensive as reported, it likely will take months — if not years — of additional testing to ensure that public safety is not being compromised. Waymo did say that each of its driverless taxis would have "chaperones" when its fleet launches this year. But it's worth noting Uber's deadly crash did involve an AV with a safety driver, so merely guaranteeing a human presence might not be enough of an assurance.