Waymo Aims Big with Self-Driving Cars

Steve Jobs famously told former Google CEO Larry Page that his company “did too much stuff.” Google, a company that is today worth $498 billion dollars has never revolved around a single product or idea. Their most known product, Google Search, is only a small piece of their always-growing portfolio. In 2010 Google X, Google’s “moonshot” project incubator, was created and became the home for some of Google’s most high risk, high reward projects, the most known of which is the Google Self Driving Car. Google researchers developed the idea for the car in 2009, and planned at the time to have a fully autonomous car built by 2020. Google’s fleet of self driving cars have since driven over two million miles around the West Coast and Texas. In late 2016, Google’s parent company Alphabet announced that they were forming a new company called Waymo that would turn the Google Self Driving Car Project into a possibly profitable business.

Self driving cars have brought forward a host of new questions about the dangers of entrusting your life to a computer. Many industry giants have data that they hope will reassure people of the increase in safety that self driving cars will bring. In 2016, Google published data from their self driving cars that showed optimistically low crash statistics. Over 1.8 million miles of autonomous driving the test vehicles were only involved in 13 fender-bender accidents, with no injuries reported. Nationally, automobile safety is a very large but ultimately solvable issue. In 2015 alone, 35,200 people died in automobile accidents. 94% of the crashes were caused by human error. This number is staggering, but automobile accidents have steadily risen year after year. This is in part due to the increase in drivers multitasking while driving. A survey done by AT&T in 2015 found that 70% of respondents used their phones while driving.

Manufacturers in the self driving car market like Tesla, Google, BMW and Toyota have proven through the millions of miles that they have driven in fully autonomous cars that self driving technology can save tens of thousands of lives through the artificial intelligence and machine learning technology that will hopefully become standard in future vehicles. Tesla, BMW, Infiniti and Mercedes Benz have all released cars that include some or all of the technology needed to become fully self driving vehicles. Tesla took a large step towards producing self-driving vehicles by building all of the sensors and computing devices needed for a car to be fully autonomous into their newest Model S, Model X, and Model 3 cars, which have themselves already reached some customers.

Although these cars are capable of being fully autonomous, many of the features have not yet reached vehicles. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has assured customers that all of the features will roll out via software updates in the coming weeks, although around 1,000 customers have already received the “Over The Air” update. In late 2016, Tesla proved the usefulness of autonomous cars when the assisted braking technology built into a Tesla miraculously avoided a possibly deadly collision. This is just one of many examples where self driving cars have proven to be lifesaving. Although the general consumer may not be ready to accept self driving cars at a wider level, it is clear that they have the potential to be very impactful when it comes to how we use pre-existing technology.