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Waymo Is 99% of the Way to Self-Driving Cars. The Last 1% Is the Hardest


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Artist's impression of the inside of a self-driving car.

Despite years of research and billions of dollars in investments, the technology behind self-driving vehicles still has flaws.

Credit: Jackie Ferrentino

Joel Johnson laughs nervously from the backseat when his self-driving taxi stops in the middle of a busy road in suburban Phoenix. The car, operated by autonomous vehicle pioneer Waymo, has encountered a row of traffic cones in a construction zone, and won't move. "Go around, man," Johnson says as he gestures to the drivers honking behind him.

After the vehicle has spent 14 mostly motionless minutes obstructing traffic, a Waymo technician tries to approach—but the car unexpectedly rolls forward, away from him. "It definitely seemed like a dangerous situation," Johnson recalls.

Incidents like this one, which Johnson posted to his YouTube channel in May, are embarrassing for Waymo—a company that's having its own problems moving forward. A unit of Alphabet Inc., Waymo hasn't expanded its robo-taxi service beyond Phoenix after years of careful testing. The company has floated moves into other areas—trucking, logistics, personal vehicles—but the businesses are in early stages. And its production process for adding cars to its driverless fleet has been painfully slow.

From Bloomberg BusinessWeek
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