Alphabet’s Waymo has generated a lot of excitement with its forthcoming self-driving taxi service in Phoenix, Arizona. But despite the fact it has a fleet of cars at the ready, plus commercial partnerships with the likes of Walmart lined up, all might not be going as smoothly as Waymo would have liked.
“Two weeks ago, Lisa Hargis, an administrative assistant who works at an office a stone’s throw from Waymo’s vehicle depot, said she nearly hit a Waymo Chrysler Pacifica minivan because it stopped abruptly while making a right turn at the intersection. “Go!” she shouted angrily, she said, after getting stuck in the intersection midway through her left turn. Cars that had been driving behind the Waymo van also stopped. “I was going to murder someone,” she said.”
In Phoenix, the A.I. drivers aren’t ready for the behaviour of human drivers, and vice-versa. And that’s just in one city, where the weather is quite stable, the roads are straight, and the traffic is pretty calm. Waymo cars would be less than useless in Switzerland in winter, for example.
This is a reminder that fully automated driving is still a long way from being the norm. We may even reach a point when excitement and the pace of development towards that autonomous future wanes. The past has seen several ‘A.I. winters,’ where funding for research dried up because progress wasn’t as fast as hoped.
It seems fair to anticipate that public excitement for the autonomous driving tech will slump as the glorious future they were promised doesn’t arrive as soon as they expected.
We’re beyond the point of no return with self-driving cars. The sheer number of R&D projects – many well advanced – means autonomous driving isn’t going to disappear. But if you were thinking your 10-year-old child wouldn’t need to learn to drive in their late teens, you should think again.
Your grandkids, however, will probably think of driving like we think of horse riding – you’d do it for enjoyment or sport, but you’d be crazy to do it for your commute.