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Self-driving taxis: What about safety and experience?

Written by Dale Evans

We’re building the world’s most experienced driver. This is the message on the Waymo website, but a Waymo safety driver appeared to fall asleep while behind the wheel causing an accident after he inadvertently turned off the driving software.

“You still find an alert driver when taking a taxi in Hawaii. Taxi Drivers in Honolulu working for Charley’s Taxi are required to pass a test on the companies  Driving Simulator.”, says Dale Evans, author of this eTN Column.  Dale is the president of Charley’s Taxi in the Aloha State of Hawaii. Her company has a very unique approach and invested heavily in safety, security, and quality service.

At Waymo’s in Phoenix, the company has put safety drivers back behind the wheels of its more advanced vehicles, which have been operating without such drivers for some time, and across its broader fleet, the company has added co-drivers to its daytime shifts as well as its night time shifts. The co-drivers are part of Waymo’s effort to keep its safety drivers alert, and The Information reports that the company has also been installing cameras aimed at drivers’ faces for the purpose of monitoring when they might be nodding off.

Waymo began as the Google self-driving car project in 2009. Today, we’re an independent self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for everyone to get around—without the need for anyone in the driver’s seat.

Waymo is a self-driving technology development company. It is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc. Waymo originated as a project of Google before it became a stand-alone subsidiary in December 2016. Waymo is currently running a trial of an autonomous ride-hailing business in Phoenix, Arizona.

Here is how Waymo started, according to postings on the company’s blog:

2009 The Google self-driving car project began
We set out on a challenge to drive fully autonomously over ten uninterrupted 100-mile routes in our Toyota Prius vehicles. Months later, we’d succeeded in driving an order of magnitude larger than had ever been driven autonomously.
2012 More than 300,000 miles self-driven
We added the Lexus RX450h to our fleet and continued self-driving on freeways with test drivers. We invited some Google employees to start early testing of our technology on highways, using our cars for work and weekend trips.
2012 Moved to complex city streets
We shifted focus to the more complex environment of city streets with pedestrians, cyclists, road work and more. Steve Mahan from the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center took his first test ride in the driver’s seat, accompanied by a test driver.
2015 “Firefly” hit public roads for the first time
We explored what fully self-driving cars could be like by designing a new reference vehicle, nicknamed “Firefly,” from the ground up. These cars had custom sensors, computers, steering and braking, but no steering wheel or pedals.
2015 World’s first fully self-driving ride on public roads
Steve joined us for another ride in our car, but this time was different. He rode completely alone in a vehicle—no steering wheel, no pedals and no driver—on public roads in Austin, TX.
2016 Waymo, a self-driving technology company
The Google self-driving car project became Waymo, a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it easy and safe for people and things to move around
2017 Introduced fully self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans
We added the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan to our fleet. This was our first vehicle built on a mass-production platform with a fully-integrated hardware suite, newly designed by Waymo for the purpose of full autonomy.
2017 Launched early rider program
We invited residents in Phoenix, AZ to join a public trial of our self-driving vehicles and help shape the future of how our cars will work.”
Our fully self-driving vehicles began test-driving on public roads without anyone in the driver’s seat. Soon, members of the public will get to use these vehicles in their daily lives.
If driverless cars are the future in the ground-transportation business, if planes flying without a pilot will be a reality soon, waits to be seen.
In the meantime, safe drivers remain the key for any ground transportation organization to be successful.
Concerns having Transportation Network Companies (TNC) take over the taxi world could mean saving a Dollar here and there, but what about trained driver and safety?

Uber and Lyft are the most known TNC companies and are spreading out everywhere.

The author of this column, Dale Evans of Charley’s Taxi has been critical and outspoken against such operators.