December 2016 was marked with another milestone by Waymo: this driverless car company that is currently under Alphabet umbrella belonging to Google has finally demonstrated its new autonomous vehicle. Waymo has been cooperating with the automobile brand Fiat Chrysler since late spring of 2016, so its latest self-driving product appeared to be a Fiat Chrysler minivan.
It is a hybrid car, and today Waymo can count on a hundred similar autonomous vehicles to test them in the upcoming year.
According to Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik, these minivans are planned to be tested not in specialized research areas, like competitors’ autonomous vehicles, but directly on public roads in the states of Texas and Arizona. Krafcik sees a great breakthrough in launching the driverless minivan and firmly believes that Google’s software for autonomous cars should be tested on various types of cars in order to make sure it suits any age group and purpose.
Testing in Severe Conditions
Google represented by Waymo can be absolutely proud of its driverless testing mileage, which can be compared to as many as 300 years of driving for an average person. However, Waymo’s competitors who cannot demonstrate 2 million miles of tested roads on their driverless vehicles, state that in this situation quantity is not equal to quality. Urban roads cannot be compared to driving in severe conditions, and Waymo is taking this challenge.
Even though Google’s self-driving cars can recognize even minor objects on the horizon, there is still a gap in testing in rainy and snowy conditions. In this situation snow can be considered the most unlucky condition for any driver, including autonomous vehicles for the reason its sensors and the other complicated hardware simply cannot “see” what’s going on around the car and on the road.
Compared to its competitors, Waymo seems to be a way behind in snow tests. Thus, Ford first tested its driverless technologies in snow conditions more than a year ago. However, these successful results can be criticized, too, as the tests were conducted on Ford’s specialized testing site. General Motors is another company with a self-driving car program that plans to conduct tests in snowy Michigan. Uber doesn’t want to stay behind, either, though Google hasn’t announced its readiness for such tests.
Programmed Deaths as a Way to Maneuver in Risky Situations
Another ambiguous situation can happen when we talk about risky maneuvers of an autonomous vehicle. In other words, the main problem here is whose lives are to be preferred and who is going to be sacrificed if a car crash happens.
Whenever a car is driven by a person, he can use intuition and other senses to make a choice in a difficult situation. When it is a driverless technology, a great work should be made prior to elaborating a universal plan that will ethically and morally legalize any possible death on the road.
Autonomous vehicles department at Mercedes-Benz previously stated the company and its engineers will try to save passengers’ lives in risky situations, and these words were criticized by many. In ethicists’ view, there can always be some risky situation when no technology can immediately analyze the risk and take a right decision.
While it has become clear that Daimler doesn’t have any clear rules on this problem, Google seems to have its own detailed position. Back in 2014 former CEO of the self-driving car project Sebastian Thrun announced the company’s position to save a bigger object in a crash. For example, a track will be treated as a bigger object, while an automobile in another lane will be considered as a smaller one, and Google’s autonomous car will prefer to crash into the latter.
Critics of this approach feel that pedestrians and smaller cars will be the first target, which is quite unfair from the moral side because even a baby in a stroller could become that object that would be preferred to be hit. However, Google rushed to reassure the engineers will do their best to enable their self-driving cars to avoid crashing into moving objects.
The main dilemma here is to find a consensus between future customers who would like to be safe sitting on a passenger seat and the public enthusiasts who say that both pedestrians and autonomous car owners have a right to know whose life will be preferred by this new technology.