There's no doubt self driving cars will be a huge industry in the not-so-distant future. With the prospect of a huge market like that, big name companies like Uber Technologies, Tesla, Apple and traditional car companies have been racing to develop the self-driving technology needed to get their product out first. One company thinks they've got it figured out, and they call themselves Waymo.
Where did Waymo come from?
Started at Google in 2009, Waymo is now an independent self-driving technology company. To date, they have accumulated the equivalent of over 300 years of human driving experience. Not included in that figure is the 1 billion simulated miles that they drove in 2016 alone.
The first car they used for testing when they began in 2009 was a Toyota Prius. The challenge was to drive ten uninterrupted 100-mile routes in the Prius. In 2012, with more than 300,000 self-driven miles complete, they added the Lexus RX450h to their fleet and continued testing on freeways with test drivers. Later in 2012 they moved testing to complex city streets, with the challenges of pedestrians, cyclists, road work and more. In 2014 a new prototype vehicle was designed from the ground up. These prototypes were equipped with custom sensors, computers, steering and braking. Absent were any pedals or steering wheel. In 2015 these prototypes hit public roads alongside the Lexus fleet in Mountain View, California and Austin, Texas. 2015 is also when the world's first fully self-driving ride took place on public roads. This was done in the prototype vehicle in Austin, TX. Now in 2016, they've begun testing on city streets in Metro Phoenix, AZ.
What can we expect?
What sets Waymo apart from other companies getting into the self-driving business is that, while other companies are working on cars that still require a small bit of human interference, Waymo is striving to make totally autonomous vehicles with no manual controls. However, according to reports, people close to tthe closely watched project say they have settled on partnering with automakers to make a vehicle that drives itself, but has traditional features for human drivers.John Krafcik, the project's chief executive, told reporters at a press conference in San Francisco "We can imagine our self-driving technology being used in lots of different areas - ride-sharing business, in transportation, trucking, logistics, even personal use vehicles and licensing with automakers". Adding "We've been really clear that we're not a car company". "We're not in the business of making better cars. We're in the business of making better drivers."
This means Waymo will provide self-driving technology to established auto makers rather than making it's own vechiles. At least for now.
Waymo's first partner, Fiat Chrysler, has teamed with the tech company to integrate the self-driving system in Chrysler minivans. Prototypes of the Chrysler Pacifica with the technology were spotted driving around San Francisco back in October.