Keynote by Waymo-CEO John Krafcik at the Detroit Auto Show

The CES 2017 is over, and it continues with the Detroit Auto Show. And there industry veteran and CEO of Google’s self-driving company Waymo , John Krafcik, gave the keynote. Waymo just graduated a few weeks ago from the Google X project and has now to make money. At the same time, Waymo also presented the fourth generation of autonomous vehicles, that were developed in collaboration with Fiat-Chrysler. And Krafcik spoke about those.

The keynote starts with a video of the legally bling Steve Mahan in a self-driving car riding through Austin, Texas, without a driver in the car. And this was the milestone that was the reason to graduate the self-driving project and bring it to the next level.

Waymo  isn’t building the better car, we are building the better driver.

All technologies that are used were developed in-house by the team. And that includes both hard and software. The ugly little duckling car (and we discussed the reasons why it’s ugly), to which media often refers to as Koala car (due to its Koala-like face) is Waymo-internally referred to as Firefly. Waymo built 50 of them together with Bosch, and those cars are on Level 4 autonomy.

Now a mass produced car shall be equipped with the technology, and therefore Google cooperates with Fiat-Chrysler to build that into Chrysler Pacifica mini vans. The 100 cars that Waymo is going to equip will become the most advanced autonomous vehicles on the planet. And there won’t be any speed limits, as it was the case with the Firefly, which was limited to 25 mph (due to California regulations). The Waymo-Pacificias will begin testing on public roads in California and Arizona later this January.

Waymo developed all Lidar-system. Those can distinguish between humans and murals of humans. Waymo uses three different Lidars, of which two of them are completely new developments: short- and long-range.

The short-range-Lidars for example can recognize in which direction a pedestrian is looking. This allows the system to estimate the direction that the pedestrian is heading to. The Lidar also recognizes hand signals from bikers and pedestrians. The long-range-Lidar can make out an object the size of a football helmet and accurately recognize it along the distance of two football fields (240 yards / 220 meters).

Those Lidars, which cost a few years ago up to 75,000 dollars, are now 90 percent cheaper and cost less than 8,000 dollar.

Beside the Lidars are also radar systems. Waymo’s radar system offers a 360 degree view, and just forward view like driver assist systems of car makers today. The 360° radar system also works well in rain, fog, and snow conditions..

Lidar, radar, and other sensor systems compliment each other and pick up there, where one sensor system has a gap. The whole integration allows to improve all systems.

So far Waymo-vehicles have driven 2.5 million miles (four million kilometers) in autonomous mode, which compares to 300 years of human driving experience. Most of the time was spent in complex city traffic. While it took 4 years to reach the first million miles, it took 16 months to reach the second million. And in May 2017, only 8 months later, Waymo vehicles will reach three million miles.

2016 alone Waymo drove one billion virtual miles. Those miles are extremely valuable for the development of the cars and are the dominant(!) form to improve the vehicles.

A metric that is important for Waymo is how often the car hands over to a human driver from autonomous to manual mode. Those hand overs are called Safety Disengagement. Also here a lot of improvements could be made. The hand overs fell from 0.8 Safety Disengagemnts per 1,000 miles in 2015 to a quarter, reaching now 0,2 per 1,000 miles.

Every year humans drive 10 Trillion miles. With self-driving technology humans can re-imagine how to use mobility and what can be done with autonomous systems

Waymo brings a platform to the market that makes mobility safer and more affordable for everyone. Many partners collaborate on this platform, one of which is Fiat-Chrysler. Krafcik points out at the end that Waymo is not building the better car, but the better driver.

Krafcik’s talk in the video starts at minute 6:30.

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