On May 7, ridesharing service Lyft announced a new partnership with autonomous vehicle concern Waymo. The deal will bring 10 self-driving cars to the Alphabet subsidiary’s Phoenix-area fleet. The pilot program will allow Arizona residents to hail a ride in a driverless car. However, the artificial intelligence (AI)-controlled vehicles entering Lyft’s network will feature safety drivers.
A Waymo press release stated the autonomous car initiative will begin in the next few months.
Sort of Self-Driving
The Lyft-Waymo partnership is not the first time the technology company has launched commercial services in Arizona.
In December 2018, Waymo launched a robotaxi service in the Phoenix metro core. The firm promoted the Waymo One program as a public rollout of autonomous vehicle technology. However, the firm’s claims were somewhat misleading. At first, the company only allowed former participants in its self-driving testing program to hail driverless rides.
The company eventually expanded access to its services, but it wasn’t really letting people ride in real self-driving taxis. Like the rest of the Autotech sector, Waymo hasn’t found a solution for the autonomous vehicle problem. The corporation has regulatory approval to do business in Phoenix, but only when human operators are at the wheel of its cars.
If Waymo’s rideshare pilot program works out, the company might finally deliver on its mission of mainstreaming self-driving car tech. However, a few recent tragic incidents suggest the technology is not yet ready for prime time.
Uber and Tesla Self-Driving Fatalities
In March 2018, a driverless Uber SUV hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. The vehicle in question was equipped with an array of sensors and an automatic braking function. But that feature was disabled during the test drive as it had been behaving erratically. Internal documents later emerged confirming that Uber’s autonomous fleet was accident prone.
The National Transportation Safety Board ultimately found the fatal crash was the fault of the car’s human operator. Investigators determined the Uber driver was distracted seconds before the collision occurred. Nevertheless, Uber suspended its North American driverless car initiative in the wake of the accident.
Electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla has also encountered serious issues in the development of its self-driving vehicle application. To date, three Tesla owners have died while using their cars Autopilot program. The widow of the driver involved in the most recent crash is now suing the Palo Alto-based company. She is alleging that design flaws in the firm’s autonomous driving software killed her husband.
In fairness to Tesla, the corporation has always insisted Autopilot is a driver’s assistance program that will evolve into a self-driving app. But the organization’s assertions haven’t assuaged concerns public abuse of the tool is leading to more car crashes.
The ever-growing list of fatalities connected to driverless programs has not diminished Silicon Valley’s enthusiasm for the technology.
Last year, Waymo predicted autonomous transportation would become a $100 billion market by 2030. Tesla plans to unleash a one million vehicle fleet of self-driving taxis next year. Uber is betting its entire future on the advent of fully functional driverless cars.
With so much money dedicated to their success, driverless cars are inevitable. The question is, are autonomous vehicles the next step in the evolution of transportation or are they the 21st century equivalent of airships?