Waymo, also known as Google Car, is a self-driving car project from the search engine giant. Everything about this range of electric and autonomous cars.
- What is a Google Car?
- The beginnings of the Google Car
- Google Car history
- Now part of the Waymo company
- Waymo One: Google Car autonomous taxis
- Why develop a Google Car?
- Technology under the hood of Google Car
- Lidar technology, from fiction to reality?
- Cameras are not precise enough for Waimo
- The limits of Waymo technology
- A very safe autonomous car
- A Google Car for whom?
- Autonomous taxis significantly cheaper
- The question of traffic authorizations
- The Google Car is not the only self-driving car
- Waymo Via: the autonomous trucks division
- Waymo trucks now tested in Texas since summer 2020
- Covid: How Waymo took advantage of the health crisis?
What is a Google Car?
The Google Car is a very advanced fully autonomous driverless car project. The project stems from Google X, a subsidiary of the search engine giant which became Alphabet in 2015. The project launched by the American multinational actually concerns two types of vehicles. The Google Car, a small electric car, but also on production vehicles modified to be equipped with all the technology necessary to do without a driver.
The beginnings of the Google Car
We have to go back to 2005 and Sebastian Thrun, a computer scientist of German origin, for the beginnings of the Google Car. By winning the DARPA Grand Challenge this year, the researcher who is also a professor at the prestigious Stanford University, laid the foundations for what would become Google’s autonomous car. The project is then taken over by Chris Urmson and Anthony Levandowski who worked on the software and mapping part for Google.
Google Car history
In 2014, the Google X division presented its first autonomous car prototype. This does not then exceed 40 km / h and 130 km of autonomy. Completely autonomous, this first Google Car has no steering wheel, brake or accelerator pedal. Numerous track tests were then carried out by the American giant. In 2015, the vehicle was authorized to travel on Californian roads provided that an engineer was on board and could take control of the autonomous vehicle, but equipped for these tests with a steering wheel and pedals.
Now part of the Waymo company
At the end of 2016, the Google Car project becomes a fully-fledged entity called Waymo. This subsidiary of Alphabet (Google) is co-founded by Sebastian Thrun and Anthony Levandowski and is now managed by John Krafcik, its current CEO. The company is developing the concept into a commercial version. Thus, in 2017, Waymo launched an autonomous taxi service test in the city of Phoenix (Arizona).
Waymo One: Google Car autonomous taxis
After the first limited tests, a full service was launched at the end of 2018 and called Waymo One. Via an app, users of the autonomous taxi service can request to be picked up by a Google Car and taken to their destination by the electric autonomous car.
Why develop a Google Car?
The idea of a Google Car autonomous car was born out of a simple observation. In the United States, 95% of accidents are caused by human error. An autonomous car would therefore prevent many accidents without forgetting that such a vehicle does not have to worry about drunkenness, driving under the influence of drugs, medication or fatigue. In addition, most cars are only used, on average, one to two hours a day, and remain parked the rest of the time. Why buy a car if you only want to use it occasionally? An autonomous taxi system is therefore a solution to this aberration.
Technology under the hood of Google Car
To operate autonomously, the Google Car has a 360-degree camera, radars, a GPS system, various sensors and an automatic piloting system called Lidar. An artificial intelligence manages all the information received and makes the decisions for the automatic piloting of the car which is therefore entirely autonomous.
Lidar technology, from fiction to reality?
A few years ago, laser technology used by self-driving cars still seemed like science fiction. It was imagined then that it would not be a reality for a long time. Yet this is now the case. Better yet, this Lidar technology is advancing at full speed.
Cameras are not precise enough for Waimo
Simon Verghese, Head of Developments in this area at Waymo, told Business Insider how crucial this technology is. He estimates that between 5 and 10 lasers should be a minimum per vehicle for an autonomous vehicle to move safely on the road. Google and Waymo are developing their own lidar system that evolves over the years to be improved, generation after generation. Above all, unlike Tesla, he believes that the cameras alone are not precise enough.
The limits of Waymo technology
While this is excellent high-end technology, the system is not perfect and suffers from some limitations. Thus, the Google Car is unable, for the moment, to recognize the gestural and sound instructions given by a traffic police officer, for example at a crossroads or in an area where an accident has occurred. Furthermore, the system has not been tested with all weather conditions, particularly in snow or in fog.
A very safe autonomous car
After having driven millions of kilometers, Waymo is very proud to point out that safety is essential for this autonomous car. The Google Car has had a few minor accidents (only property damage) in which its liability was rarely called into question. It wasn’t until 2016 that the self-driving car made the first mistake by misjudging the intentions of a bus driver. This accident, for which responsibility for the autonomous car was established, put the brakes on a commercial release.
A Google Car for whom?
The Google Car is of course designed for everyone. However, people who do not have a driver’s license or who have difficulty driving (elderly, disabled, children, etc.) are a prime target. People living and working in cities are also targeted. Buying a vehicle in an urban environment is not always a good idea (pollution, parking problems, heavy traffic, etc.). Switching to an autonomous taxi system is therefore a good solution for people living in large cities. It is also a solution of choice for green people because they are electric cars.
Autonomous taxis significantly cheaper
Due to the lack of a driver, a taxi license and the fact that the electric vehicle costs very little to charge, the costs for an autonomous taxi are significantly lower than for a taxi with a driver. This therefore makes it possible to travel at a lower cost and in an environmentally friendly manner. When real fleets of autonomous taxis are deployed in our cities, our behavior should, without a doubt, change. However, this could be the source of major concerns for taxi drivers who may see it as unfair competition and which is difficult to fight against.
The question of traffic authorizations
Self-driving cars like Google Car are a problem for states. These vehicles are indeed ahead of the law which requires a driver to be on board but also that he is not distracted. Exemptions are therefore necessary to obtain authorization to operate self-driving cars. Draft amendments to the law are under consideration in many countries, but some nations remain reluctant to use such vehicles.
The Google Car is not the only self-driving car
Even if the Google Car autonomous car project seems revolutionary, the American giant is not the only one to have launched such a project. Two other multinationals, Apple and Uber, also launched such projects very early on. Different car manufacturers are also working on such technology. We can of course cite the electric car manufacturer Tesla, which is far ahead, but also more traditional manufacturers such as Mercedes, BMW, Ford or even Daimler, to name only those who have fairly advanced technology. It is quite possible that other manufacturers are also working on this technology.
Waymo Via: the autonomous trucks division
Note that the Google subsidiary does not focus solely on self-driving cars. Waymo Via aims to equip trucks for delivery services. It’s not about building autonomous trucks, it’s about equipping trucks with technology. A pilot program was thus launched in 2018 with class 8 semi-trailers. Tests were carried out in Arizona and soon in the states of Texas, New Mexico and California.
Waymo trucks now tested in Texas since summer 2020
Autonomous transport is not just about cars. Other modes of transport are being tested, including trucks. Uber had already proven this in Colorado a few years ago. Waymo is embarking on the same kind of project with Peterbilt trucks that operate on the roads of Texas. On the program, cameras, lasers and on-board computers. Initially, there will of course be a driver on board permanently to be able to react quickly if necessary.
Trucks without merchandise
However, there will be no real merchandise on board the aircraft. However, it is not known how long this experience will last or whether the trucks will quickly become autonomous and without having a driver. The experiment was postponed for a few months due to the health situation.
Covid: How Waymo took advantage of the health crisis?
In recent months, many businesses have been at a standstill due to the health situation associated with the Covid-19 pandemic. But Waymo was able to continue testing vehicles in his fake city. A situation for which this construct has proven particularly useful. This base, which is located on a former Air Force base in California, has been used by Google since 2013 to test various projects, including the Waymo autonomous car. A real advantage when many companies have been forced to limit themselves to virtual scenarios. It remains to be seen whether this will give any ideas to other companies in the event of a new scenario like this.