February 1, 2018

With Autonomous Vehicle Testing, Waymo is Way Ahead

The California Department of Motor Vehicles have just released some new statistics on test autonomous vehicles (AV’s)  operating in that state. California requires owners of these vehicles to annually report the number of hours driven  and the number of hours that the vehicle is~well, steering itself. As reported in the Atlantic Monthly Waymo the self-driving car from Google owned Alphabet is still leading the pack. Waymo  AV’s “drove 352,545 autonomous miles with 63 total disengagements, for a yearly average of 5,595 miles per disengagement. In the company’s best month, November 2017, they did 30,516 miles with a single disengagement. ”
While these numbers are remarkable, it was noticed that the “disengagement rate” did not decline from the 2016 numbers. Waymo put two million total miles on their cars in twenty different cities in the last year. In 2018 Waymo is commencing a “self-driving taxi service” in Phoenix, a trial that will expand to other cities. Waymo uses customized minivans produced by Chrysler and it is expected that thousands of these AV’s will be produced as Waymo continues expanding to a truly autonomous service.
Who else is in the field? The number two AV tester in California,  GM’s Cruise, drove 125,000 miles in San Francisco in self-driving mode, with 105 disengagements. Tesla reported zero miles. Instead of using costly sensor arrays Tesla is arguing that their “billions of miles of real-world driving data” will develop their autonomous technology. The “shadow mode” in the Tesla gleans data without actually taking control of the vehicle, developing the system by data accumulation as opposed to physical vehicle testing.
As the Atlantic Monthly writer Alexis Madrigal concludes: “We’re not seeing a spike in the number of companies that are able to execute well on California roads, nor are we seeing an explosion in the number of miles driven or massive reductions in disengagements per mile. It could be that this is happening in other states, outside the regulatory reporting spotlight. But for now, this looks like a two-car race with a Tesla revving its engine in the infield.”


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