The Google spin-off company Waymo has applied to the state of California for a permit to allow driver-free cars on the roadways for testing. Of course, the two recent deaths in self-driving cars — one pedestrian in Arizona and one highway crash in California — have not stopped the technology’s march forward: there are billions of dollars at stake.
Below, the Waymo car has logged over five million miles to date.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik recently assured consumers that the company’s cars are safe, noting, “Our confidence stems from the fact that we’ve been working on this for so long and we’ve been focused throughout this mission on ensuring the safety of the cars and the technology.”
The emphasis on the safety of self-driving cars distracts from the social crisis they will create in employment: The US Commerce Department has forecast that 3.8 million driving jobs could be displaced by the technology.
An important associated issue is immigration: many low-skilled immigrants are employed as drivers, as reported in industry publication Fleetowner.com (June 11, 2017), “Currently, of the 1.2 million motor carrier-employed U.S. truck drivers (operating Class 8 trucks) about 224,722 or 18.6% are immigrants, according to U.S. Census data for 2011-2015.”
So it makes no sense to continue high immigration levels when automation in driving and other fields will substantially lower the need for workers generally, and certainly the government should prioritize American jobs for citizens.
California is a convenient testing ground for Waymo because its headquarters are in Mountain View in Silicon Valley.
Exclusive: Waymo applies for no-driver testing in California, San Francisco Chronicle, April 13, 2018
Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet, this week applied to test cars without drivers on California roads, The Chronicle has learned — even as a pair of recent crashes has heightened fears about the safety of autonomous vehicles.
Waymo confirmed Friday that it had submitted an application to the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test cars without a backup driver behind the wheel. So far, only two companies have applied for such permits, and the other company’s identity has not been publicly revealed.
According to a source familiar with the matter, Waymo plans to start testing near its Mountain View headquarters, an area where its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans have already logged many miles with backup drivers. Over time, the company will expand testing of autonomous cars with no backup driver to more of the Bay Area, the source said.
Waymo’s approach will be to extensively map a terrain by having vehicles with test drivers cover it first, before using no-driver cars.
The move comes less than a month after a fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber SUV in Arizona raised fresh concerns about the safety of autonomous cars. That vehicle had a backup driver behind the wheel when it struck and killed a pedestrian on March 19, but dashcam videos showed the driver was not watching the road.
Days later, a Tesla Model X operating in Autopilot mode slammed into a concrete freeway divider near Mountain View, killing the driver. Although Autopilot, which requires the driver to pay attention, does not represent full self-driving technology, it is considered a major step in that direction.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik said that the Arizona tragedy would not have happened with a Waymo car.
“We have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one,” Krafcik told a car dealers group the week after the accident.
There’s a certain poetic justice in Waymo being an early applicant for California’s no-driver car permits.
The company started testing autonomous vehicles in 2009, when the idea was considered as futuristic as personal jetpacks. It was the third company to receive a permit for road tests — with backup drivers behind the wheel — in California. Its cars have driven themselves some 5 million miles, 2 million of them in California.
Waymo’s success in getting cars to drive themselves has spurred major automakers, tech companies and startups to pursue the same goal in what is now a worldwide, multibillion-dollar race.