Look Ma, No Hands!

“Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, without tired, drunk or distracted driving. Time spent commuting could be time spent doing what you want to do.” [1]

Sound good? If so, read on. Beginning in 2009 as Google’s self driving car project, Waymo has evolved into an independent company capable of revolutionary possibilities. The company is focused on creating safe, accessible, and simple transportation. As of 2016, Waymo has tested their vehicles on over 2 million miles of road in Washington, California, Arizona, and Texas. The company has worked tirelessly to perfect their sensors and software to achieve the precision they strive for. Now, Waymo leads in bringing driverless cars to the market hoping to minimize human caused accidents and open new pathways for the disabled.

In an era of innovation and technology, we are constantly looking for new ways to improve daily life. However, some people question the necessity of autonomous vehicles on the road. In an article from The New York Times by Jamie Lincoln Kitman entitled “Google Wants Driverless Cars, but Do We?”, the author points out the obvious pitfalls of new technology.

Today’s cars can be hacked easily. New protocols must be agreed on, and even then, nefarious actors will learn how to remotely start and stop cars, steer them, steal them, crash them or even take them hostage. [2]

As seen throughout the cyber world, hackers can reach every corner of technology. Take for instance the hacking of confidential information during the 2016 presidential election. If even government networks can be cracked, what stops hackers from hacking Google? In Kitman’s opinion, Waymo should be more focused on the strength of the vehicle’s cyber security rather than rushing it into the mass production and sales.

One of the most attractive aspects of Waymo will also be its most devastating effect as well. There are around 1.6 million truck drivers in the US alone making around $67 billion annually. Driverless cars would put these hard workers in between a rock and a hard place as they scramble to find new jobs. Other jobs that will be affected are taxi drivers, uber drivers, school bus drivers, and transit drivers. On the path to pushing innovation, is the future really worth over 2 million American jobs?

Waymo argues that the “pros” do outweigh the “cons,” gathering statistics on the decrease of auto accidents. The company points out that there are over 32,000 automobile related deaths just in the US per year that can be avoided by simply taking out the human variable. 94% of all vehicular accidents are caused by human error. Of course, Waymo and all other companies working on autonomous cars are quick to remind us that the car isn’t the problem.

Waymo also emphasizes the social impact it would have on society. It would make life much easier for the elderly and disabled. Autonomous cars would “prevent common errors among older drivers, such as not seeing an oncoming vehicle, misjudging the length of a gap between vehicles or another vehicle’s speed…” [3] As well as this, the new technology would allow blind people to once more enjoy the open road. Steve Mahan, Director of the Center for Blind People, said “…I want it to happen. Everyone in the blind community wants it to happen.” [4] But it’s not only the blind who want to see Waymo on the streets. Automakers and taxi services– unlike their drivers– are also calling for the release of self-driving cars. Think of it like a new toy on Christmas day: everyone can’t wait to play with it.

Yet even though the necessary technology for fully autonomous cars will be available by 2019, driverless cars will most likely not be mass produced until 2030. This is partially because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is taking a very skeptical and cautious stance on driverless vehicles. The Department of Transportation and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators have come together to write the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy which states that the systems must undergo rigorous testing for every situation:

[T]est approaches should include a combination of simulation, test track, and on-road testing. Manufacturers and other entities should determine and document the mix of methods that are appropriate for their HAV (highly automated vehicle) system(s) [5]

All in all, the NHTSA guidelines and regulations have slowed down companies’ rapid marketing speed by needing the approval of a scrutinizing eye.

For now, Waymo continues to test their cars on the road and push the boundaries of modern innovation. In 2030, prepare to witness a whole new world of possibilities.

Ethan Huang

Crew Athlete and Art Appreciator. Ethan is a graduate of the class of 2020.