|Waymo to launch ride-sharing service — if it can get the cars to turn left |
By Gina Hall – Contributor
Silicon Valley Business Journal
Oct 3, 2017, 2:00pm PDT
Updated Oct 3, 2017, 2:08pm PDT
Waymo's fully self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan 4
Waymo handout photo
Alphabet’s Waymo plans to launch a ride-sharing service with autonomous vehicles if it can patch one major flaw: its self-driving vans have difficulty making left turns.
Waymo wants to launch the first commercial ride-sharing service with no human “safety” drivers as soon as this fall, according to The Information. But there are still a few glitches to work out — one of the major software issues leaves the autonomous Chrysler vans struggling when there are no green arrows for turning left.
During the past the year and a half, Waymo’s self-driving cars have occasionally been forced to stop making left turns because the software wasn’t safe enough, a person close to Waymo’s operations told The Information. The company is currently transporting passengers in a public test in the suburbs of Phoenix.
"At the corner of South Longmore Street and West Southern Avenue in Mesa, Arizona, there's a flashing yellow arrow that permits cars to turn left," Waymo wrote in a recent blog post. "Navigating this type of intersection can be tricky for humans and self-driving cars alike — drivers must carefully move into a five-lane intersection and then find a gap in oncoming traffic. Turning left too soon may cause a driving hazard for oncoming traffic; making the move too late may mean frustrated drivers behind."
In addition, the vehicles occasionally have difficulty with other driving challenges, such as cul-de-sacs. Mall entrances, which are often times off a public street, also present problems when Waymo’s sensors haven’t mapped the area, per The Information report.
How quickly the company plans to patch the problems remains to be seen, but some internal discord could also become an issue for the company as it moves toward launch. Dmitri Dolgov, who heads up software programming for Waymo, has been privately critical of Waymo CEO John Krafcik, per three people who have spoken to The Information about his comments. Dolgov reportedly said that Krafcik’s lack of technical knowledge about self-driving systems will affect major decisions surrounding the commercial service launch.
The company hopes to be the first major tech company to successfully engineer a self-driving car without a driver sitting behind the wheel. Waymo is thought to be out ahead of traditional car makers, in addition to Uber Technologies and Lyft, in testing the technology.
Waymo is one of 40 companies that have DMV permits to test self-driving cars on California roads. Tesla Inc., Samsung, Ford Motor Co., Nvidia Corp., Uber and Lyft are among the others.As competition waits to see how Waymo will handle the challenges, the Mountain View-based company is working to avoid any negative publicity that might come along with any serious collisions. In January, the company removed monthly reports regarding traffic accidents on public roads with the self-driving vehicles, per Business Insider.
But the cars have put in the miles and the company hopes to hit the roads with customers soon. Waymo said its cars have driven more than three million miles on public streets and have driven billions of miles within simulation software, per The Information.
Last month, Santa Clara-based chipmaker Intel Corp. revealed that it's been working with Waymo since 2009.