Today, Waymo is an absolute industry leader in the self-driving car technologies. The driverless cars project was started by Google in 2009. Back then, the company announced its plans to build an autonomous car for public needs by 2020.
On December 13, 2016, Google created an independent company named Waymo within the corporate project devoted to driverless cars. John Krafcik, former Hyundai and Ford executive, was appointed as the company’s general director.
On April 25, 2017, Waymo became the first company to launch a program for autonomous vehicles utilization by the public. The “early rider program”, unfolded in Phoenix, Arizona, employs Chrysler Pacifica minivans. The service has become available to hundreds of people through using the dedicated smartphone application. On the same day, Waymo announced that it was going to increase its fleet by 500 Chrysler Pacifica.
For 8 years, from 2009 to May 2017, Waymo self-driving cars have driven 3 million miles in total. This is the record number of miles driven, as compared to other companies that test autonomous vehicles. The Californian DMV’s report shows that Waymo cars drove 97% of total mileage covered by all tested self-driving cars in California only during 2016.
In addition, the time, needed to pass every next mile by Waymo cars, has dramatically shortened. The last third million miles has been driven for only 7 months, the second million was covered for over a year, and the first one took about 6 years. This speed-up is due to the fact that the number of Waymo cars is constantly growing up (in December 2016, they added 100 Chrysler Pacifica cars). The further mileage should be covered even faster, as Waymo has increased their fleet by 500 minivans! It should be mentioned that billions of miles were run using computer simulation software in addition to the tests on public roads.
Waymo also has the smallest number of disengagements – statistic data that reveals the number of driving malfunctions for 1000 miles when a driver has to take over a driverless vehicle control. It is mandatory to provide this statistic data to DMV in California. According to the DMV-2016 report, Waymo only had 0.2 disengagements per every 1000 miles, while they had 0.8 in 2015. The disengagements statistics-2016 reveals that all other companies are significantly inferior to Waymo. But this indicator is quite relative – different companies may test their own vehicles under different conditions, some – in rough conditions, others – in milder ones.
The Story of Google’s Self-Driving Cars
In 2009, Sebastian Thrun became the first head of Google’s self-driving cars independent project. Thrun started to take interested in driverless vehicles much longer ago. Being a professor at Stanford University, he conducted vigorous research activities which resulted in a model of the Stanley robot car. The project turned out to be an award-winning idea, and in 2005, it even brought $2,000,000 to its creators for being able to autonomously drive 130+ miles in the desert conditions. Google started this initiative execution with 6 Toyota Priuses and one Audi TT at their disposal bringing the cars on Californian land.
Over 140 thousand miles were covered by self-driving cars produced by Google according to the 2010 report. The corporation also paid great attention to its personnel by inviting a number of high-qualified engineers experienced in this area. Chris Urmson of Carnegie Mellon University, Mike Montemerlo of Stanford University, who was in Sebastian Thrun’s prize-winning team in 2005, and the first self-driving motorcycle creator Anthony Levandowski were among these specialists. Chris Urmson received a CTO position in this bold hi-tech project.
One year later, in 2011, Toyota cars were changed for Lexus models, and Google managed to install their software and hardware on 23 RX450H SUVs.
In the spring of 2014, this new technology was announced ready, making the corporation proud of the fact that their tested driverless vehicles were absolutely prepared for thousands of possible scenarios while driving in urban conditions. That was a real breakthrough.
The first prototype of Google’s autonomous car was presented at the Code Conference in May 2014. The vehicle lacked such essential elements as gas and brakes pedals and could only be started with a special power button. At that moment, the prototype’s highest speed was only 25 miles per hour, and the company was ready to build up to 200 test vehicles. In 2015, Mountain View, CA, was selected as a testing site for new, improved prototypes.
The testing arena slightly moved to Austin, TX in the summer of 2015, and new Lexus car models with the self-driving technology installed on them invaded the city.
September 2015 was marked as a new milestone for the company, as the Project’s CEO position was assumed by John Krafcik who was well-known as a former Hyundai and Ford CEO.
Self-driving cars became a mutual goal for the Google and Fiat Chrysler teams who combined their efforts a year later in May 2016. The Google’s project was supplied with a hundred of hybrid minivans manufactured by the mentioned car giant to test this innovative technology.
The end of 2016 was marked with another milestone when Google announced the launch of its new Waymo Company.
On February 13, 2017, Waymo lost a number of its high-qualified experts connected with the driverless car technology, who preferred to leave the company and start up their own business in the self-driving car industry.
On February 23, 2017, Google filed a lawsuit against Uber for stealing its technologies. The accusation is the following: after Anthony Levandowski, Google’s former specialist, had stolen certain secret technologies, he left the corporation and created the Otto Company, dealing with autonomous trucks, which was finally merged with Uber for $680 million in a few following months. Uber is now using the technology on its vehicles.
On May 2017, it became known about a contract between Waymo and Lyft – a transportation network company that provides its services in every big city in the US. Thus, Waymo becomes a direct competitor to Uber, as Lyft is the second most popular taxicab company after Uber in the American market.
On June 26, 2017, Waymo signed a deal with an American car rental company Avis Budget Group. In the first place, the cooperation includes Avis’s maintenance and storage services for 600 autonomous Fiat Chrysler vehicles which started their first pilot program in Phoenix.