We started the year with two main competitors in the robotaxi space competing for dominance and press attention in San Francisco, but we are ending the year with just one. And that company, Waymo, has a new peer-reviewed study to share that shows how safe its autonomous cars are compared to cars driven by humans.
Last week saw news of GM's Cruise gutting its workforce and preparing for a couple of years of rebuilding after some high-profile injury crashes in San Francisco. And protesters were even targeting the California Public Utilities Commission for giving Cruise the green light to operate in SF in the first place, and calling for the ouster of one commissioner who had previously been employed by Cruise.
Cruise previously lost its operating permit from the DMV, and announced that it was suspending all driverless operations in San Francisco and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Waymo is (so far) sitting pretty, and used this week to release a peer-reviewed study, which it seems to have funded, which comes to several conclusions about the rates at which human drivers and Cruise cars get into accidents.
As the Chronicle notes, the study covers the 1.76 million driverless miles that Waymo's cars have registered in San Francisco so far, along with about 5.4 million miles registered elsewhere. It compares data about vehicle crashes of all kinds, and finds that Waymo vehicles were in involved in crashes resulting in injury or property damage far less often than human-driven cars. In fact, the "human benchmark" — which is what Waymo is using to refer to human averages for various driving foibles — is 5.55 crashes per 1 million miles. And the Waymo robot benchmark is just 0.6 crashes per 1 million miles.
Both of these figures count crashes regardless of which party was at fault.
The overall figure for crash rates found Waymo's to be 6.7 times lower (0.41 incidents per 1 million miles) than the rate of humans (2.78 per million). This included data from Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
The report's "Conclusions" section is less than definitive in its findings, noting that the data of police-reported incidents across various jurisdictions may not be consistent or "apples-to-apples."
"The benchmark rates themselves... varied considerably between locations and within the same location," the report's authors say. "This raises questions whether the benchmark data sources have comparable reporting thresholds (surveillance bias) or if other factors that were not controlled for in the benchmarks (time of day, mix of driving) is affecting the benchmark rates."
Still, the report, one of several that Alphabet-owned Waymo has commissioned in recent months, is convincingly thorough and academic in its approach, and seems to be great news for the company as it hopes to scale up — starting with the enormous LA market.
Waymo, like Cruise previously, has sought to convince a skeptical public that driverless vehicles are, in fact, safer than humans. And this is another step toward doing so — even if people are going to be naturally wary of sharing the road with too many robots.
"Obviously, we’d like to be judged on our own merits,” says Trent Victor, Waymo’s director of safety research and best practices. "We’re the ones who have published more than 20 papers. What we’d like to do is give a clearer picture to allow people to see the difference. And I think it is also another difference in that we’re scaling responsibly."
Waymo would also probably like everyone to forget that a competitor's driverless taxi struck and dragged a woman at Market and Fifth streets — regardless of who or what was at fault — and that driverless cars have been cited in dozens of incidents involving emergencies and emergency vehicles.
Photo: gibblesmash asdfo