The commercial rollout of Waymo's driver-less taxi service in Chandler, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix with a population of 260,000 people, has more than a thousand customers already signed up -- including the mayor, reports Forbes:
Each of the several hundred Waymo One vans in Chandler arrives with a safety driver at the wheel. But that may be more about public relations than technical necessity. During a recent trip, the human in the driver's seat didn't take her hands off her lap during a trip from the library to a shopping mall a few miles away in light, late morning traffic. "Part of it's just education and getting people really comfortable right out of the gate," a Waymo spokeswoman said. There's another piece of the Arizona program that's closer to Waymo's long-term plans of full autonomy. A few hundred people are getting rides in Pacificas with no safety driver through its Early Rider program, an earlier test rollout. Unlike Waymo One users, Early Riders have to sign nondisclosure agreements and aren't allowed to discuss the program.
Early Riders are also a way for the company to observe how people adapt to a robotic service and the options they want. Recently Waymo integrated Google Play music into the Waymo One app to let riders automatically listen to their preferred songs and artists. Video streaming, games and other in-vehicle options that leverage Google's many services are likely additions, though Waymo won't verify that... "Beyond the initial shock of not seeing a person in the vehicle, which we're getting used to, protocols are being established," says Chandler Police Chief Sean Duggan. "As a police officer, one of the first questions that gets asked is 'who gets the ticket? How do you contact whomever?'" There have been a "half a dozen" collisions involving a Waymo vehicle, Duggan says, but not ones where the Waymo vehicle was at fault. In fact, the department hasn't issued any citations to Waymo in the past couple of years...
Ahead of the commercial launch, there were reports that the vans irritate local commuters because they take too long to make left turns and of assaults on Waymo vans including rock throwing, a slashed tire and even an individual who aimed a gun at one. "People tend to be frustrated when a vehicle is actually obeying the law" by stopping completely at intersections and making turns cautiously, Dugan said. "That happens regardless of if it's self-driving or a person."
Forbes describes Waymo's presence in Chandler as "a test case for the entire industry," citing an interesting perspective from Bryan Reimer, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab. "The view for companies like Waymo is 'we have to be able to show functional safety. Otherwise, we can't protect our decisions in a court of law, where this will all end up long term.'"
"Elon is working mostly on the deep neural net side where a good chunk of it is a black box. Documenting, defending that in court is going to be tough."
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