Waymo continues to lay the groundwork for his commercial robot taxi service in Phoenix, releasing a video today with a 360-degree look inside one of the company's fully driverless minivans. It's part of the Google spinoff public education campaign to raise awareness about a technology that remains inaccessible, and even a little frightening, to most people.
Recently, the Arizona Department of Transportation gave Waymo's request to operate as a transportation network in the state, a crucial step as it prepares its passenger attraction service that will compete directly with Uber. But before it can be launched, it must reassure a skeptical public that cars that drive safely can navigate through complex urban and suburban environments. And that means offering a brief lesson on the technology and detection equipment that underpins autonomous driving.
360-degree detection generates a 360-degree video
In the video, the narrator offers a brief tutorial on the types of sensors used by Waymo – LIDAR, radar and high definition cameras – and the range of these sensors. The information is quite light on the technical details as it is aimed at a general audience. And the 360-degree function aims to mimic the full scope of the detection power of the minivan. It is a snapshot of the type of smoothed and distilled detection data that Waymo displays on the screens inside its vehicles for passengers to see during their travels.
Also noteworthy is the number of left turns that can be seen in the video of Waymo minivans. Last year, a report in The Information detailed the difficulty of the company to perfect the left turns, especially the left turns "unprotected" without a green arrow traffic signal. These problems were particularly pronounced after the vehicles received software updates, the sources told The Information. But in the video, the minivans are filmed making several left turns effortlessly, although a spokesman for Waymo said his inclusion in the video was not a conscious decision.
Certainly, more eye-catching is the view from inside one of Waymo's driverless vans as it crosses an Arizona street. Waymo says that nothing was edited in these scenes, beyond small adjustments of color and brightness, and although there was a person hidden in the car to shoot, they did not touch the vehicle controls or drive anything.
The public's confidence in their technology is doubly important for Waymo because the company pretends to be the first to invite ordinary people in their cars without a driver without any type of human safety controllers. Last year, the company launched an advertising campaign in Arizona in partnership with non-profit organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and National Safety Council.
It probably takes more than a few warnings and a 360-degree video skillfully made so that most people feel safe enough to get into the backseat of a minivan with no one at the wheel, but Waymo obviously believes that an image Worth more than thousand words.
Waymo is also announcing a new milestone: 5 million autonomous miles traveled on public roads. The company notes that it took six years to accumulate 1 million miles, another six months to reach 4 million miles, and only three months to reach the score of 5 million. "Today we are driving as many miles in a day as the average American adult units in a whole year," said a spokesman.