Waymo may be gearing up to get self-driving cars — without human "safety drivers" — on the road by as early as this fall, according to The Information.
If this seems a little soon to you, then you're not alone. According to Engadget's report on the announcement, engineers at Waymo are displeased with how the technology is being essentially shoved out the door at the order of Waymo CEO John Krafcik, the "industry veteran" brought on by Google to lead their autonomous cars division. Along with being frustrated about Krafcik's apparent lack of technical knowledge, engineers are unhappy with how he's essentially always sided with Alphabet leaders Larry Page and Sergey Brin regarding "unrealistic launch deadlines and hiring freezes."
That being said, if this launch goes according to plan, this would mark a huge step in the development of driverless cars. Up until now, these cars have required a human behind the wheel to serve as a backup in case things go wrong. In terms of ride-hailing/sharing, that human also comes in handy as a backup just in case the rider requests to go somewhere that hasn't been mapped yet or if they request a longer trip.
As we shared back in May, Waymo teamed up with rideshare app Lyft, who would essentially supply the human drivers for their driverless cars while they were still being tested. Then, it was seen as a move to get back at Uber, who currently are still battling a lawsuit from Waymo the one that alleges that a former top Uber exec stole trade secrets from Waymo before leaving to join Uber. More recently, according to a Wired report from today, a due diligence report found that Uber knew ahead of time that this so-called "self-driving guru" had stolen trade secrets from Waymo.
Uber has has of course had its own share of issues with self-driving cars, dating back to when CEO Travis Kalanick rushed their cars out the door and onto SF's streets last December arguing that they didn't need a testing permit from the DMV in order to do so. The DMV shut down pretty quick.
Following that, a study by the Cornell University Library found that it's actually super easy to "trick" self-driving cars in general, as they demonstrated that they can be messed with using some simple stickers, electrical tape, or spray paint applied to road signs. Let's hope Waymo's robot cars are way smarter and impervious to trickery, or else we're going to be seeing a lot of headlines about dumb robots being dumb and hopefully not hurting anyone.