Not many have understood it, but starting October 2019 we officially entered from the pre-driver-less era into the post-driver-less era. We are not talking about autonomous cars as a theoretical thing for the future, which will start somewhere in 15 or 20 years. No, this era has begun.
Google sister company Waymo, which started 2009 under the leadership of Sebastian Thrun as an intern project aptly titled Project Chauffeur, then later as a Project X, and now as its own entity, has officially started its robotaxi service Waymo One without drivers in the car. This was announced a few weeks ago in a message to the company’s customers in the Phoenix area in Arizona, and it became a reality a few days ago, when the first reports of completely driverless vehicles being spotted were posted in expert forums.
And the number of sightings increases. Also I was told that the first driver-less rides were performed in Mountain View in California. Look out for the next days and weeks, when we’ll certainly see more videos and pictures.
Oliver Cameron, CEO of robotaxi company Voyage. who also was the mastermind behind Udacity’s Self-Driving Engineering Nano-Degree and knows Sebastian Thrun very well, found himself in the need to make sure his own team understands the significance of this moment. In an internal email he emphasized that the world we live now is different. After Waymo demonstrated that complete driver-less self-driving cars are possible to operate safely in the public, we will see a dramatically increased competition between the companies developing this technology. After all, there is a market worth trillions of dollars to conquer.
The same has been observed in the past in different markets. When Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first public demonstrations of motorized flights in Le Mans and Washington D.C. in 1908 – i.e. the first year where the public became aware that motorized human flight is possible – the year after, 1909, at the Grand Aeronautic Week in Reims, alread 38 airplanes were entered in the contest, and 23 of them really flew.
In November 2018, The Verge writer Andrew J. Hawkins got on a testride in a Waymo. Not even one year later, in October 2019, TechCrunch writer Ed Niedermeyer hops on a testride in a Waymo. The difference? In the latter test ride there was no safety driver present.
As it was with motorized flight in 1908 and 9109, the same can be expected with self-driving cars. From now on it’s all about scaling. Raising the required funds, buying vehicles for the fleets, installing the technology, mapping cities for autonomous driving, and training the system for local peculiarities. The biggest hurdle today are local regulators.
And they are recommended to get to work. The savings for societies will be tremendous, both for costs of mobility and the damages that collisions today cause. It’s expected that miles driven in self-driving cars will be cheaper by 50% to 90% for passengers. As soon as we experience this safety of the car and gather accident data, we’ll see this technology coming faster than many imagined.
While we talk in Germany and Europe mainly from about the disruptions coming from electric vehicles, which we are already feeling, the real blow will come with autonomous vehicles. We’ll need fewer cars, drivers and driving schools will become a thing of the past, and our road and traffic infrastructure will completely change. Fewer lanes, fewer parking spots and garages, dramatically fewer traffic lights and signs, a strong decrease of traffic accidents and the damages included with that, all this will save us and our communities a lot of money. We will give back the space to humans, and the impact will be significant, thanks to Waymo’s technological breakthrough.
“Welcome to the post-driver-less era!“
if you want to learn more about that, I wrote the book below. And I go into way more details. The book just came out in October 2019 and can be ordered here.
This article was also published in German.