Waymo is an autonomous car development company that was founded by Google last year. For the past few months, the company has been carrying out vigorous testing of its fleet of driverless minivans on an old Air Force Base located in Atwater, California.
Here, the autonomous vehicles whizz around avoiding objects and obstacles, learning how to react to the situation. They carry out the same tests again and again until the artificial intelligence (AI) system learns something new.
At the testing site, the researchers have set up more than 20,000 different scenarios over time in an attempt to get the AI technology ready for the roads. Unfortunately, it’s not quite there yet.
Waymo’s CEO, John Krafcik, said he can’t be sure when exactly we can expect to see driverless cars on the roads, but he has confirmed the company is in talks with various cities about possible trucking, ride-sharing, and ride-hailing services. “We’re getting to the point now where… we can say we’re getting close,” said Krafcik.
It’s no easy feat getting these AI vehicles ready to navigate on their own, but Waymo is certainly making good progress.
The car is efficient, responds quickly when it needs to, and overall offers a very smooth ride. But, that’s when it’s in its comfort zone of the test track; out on the real roads would it be the same?
When it comes to the Waymo test vehicles, all it takes to start the car is the simple push of a button.
Suddenly, the AI vehicle is off navigating itself through a predetermined route that’s meant to simulate the real world. Operation staff is located at different points of the test facility ready to carry out their roles.
That could be a person whose car’s broken down and is blocking the road, a cyclist that rides quickly alongside the vehicle, or a pedestrian crossing in front of the vehicle.
Next to the button that starts the car, is another that says, “pull over”, although the company has said it isn’t testing that feature at the moment. There’s also a “help” button that will connect the user with a customer support agent.
The LED console that’s mounted inside shows the streets you are travelling on as well as a version of what the car sees at certain intersections.
Whenever the car is about to come to a stop or slow for pedestrians it warns its passengers by a simple text message that’s displayed on the console.
It’s this console that really makes a difference to the overall customer experience and is perhaps one of Waymo’s most revolutionary moves.
The computer will quickly help earn the trust of the passengers and make it an enjoyable experience as opposed to one that’s filled with fear.
Using AI to enhance customer experience is what it’s all about, whether that’s by a consumer-facing console or the actual autonomous vehicle itself. Any Waymo seems to be doing that just fine.