Since it spun out of Google in December 2016, Waymo has developed self-driving tech for five different kinds of vehicles, from a semi truck down to its “firefly,” the cute car that looks like a jelly bean. Ahead of the New York Auto Show, it revealed its sixth and it’s a beauty.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik unveiled the self-driving Jaguar I-Pace on Tueseday, describing the all-electric SUV as the “premium” model in its lineup. It’s a long-term partnership that begins with testing this year for the SUV, culminating with 20,000 of the self-driving vehicles being added to the fleet within the first two years of production, Krafcik said. “Those 20,000 self-driving vehicles can serve about a million trips in a single day,” he noted.
Why the I-Pace? Krafcik credited its size as good for city driving, its electrical architecture as well-suited for Waymo’s tech, it’s safe, and it has a “big, fast-charge battery” that translates to longer trips with less charging. And because it’s a ride-sharing vehicle, the cost is lowered per trip for the luxury car. Waymo wants to bring a “safe, delightful, self-driving service to millions of people across the country,” he said.
In the wake of the fatal Uber crash this month, Krafick was asked about Waymo’s safety record by a reporter in the room. He credited amount of time Google/Waymo had been developing the technology — about ten years — the number of miles on real roads, and 5 billion miles in simulation. He said he was confident that what Waymo was putting on the road was safe technology. This past weekend, Krafcik addressed the accident in more detail at the National Automobile Dealers Association conference. “Someone lost their life from a car that had self-driving technology in it. For those of us at Waymo, it is that mission of safety and avoiding accidents just like that one that really bring us all together as a company.” He said this when asked if a Waymo car would have reacted the same way as the Uber vehicle: “I can say with confidence in situations like that one, with a pedestrian with a bicycle, we have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one.”
Get ready for self-driving cars in Arizona this year, Krafcik said. “We’re going to launch our service, not in 2019, or 2020 or sometime after that, but this year. This year, in 2018, stating in Phoenix, Arizona.” Members of the public will be able to take our self-driving cars to anywhere in the Waymo service area to work, to school, to the grocery store, anywhere they’d go with a typical car. “And that’s just the beginning.”
There’s no-doubt a pall over self-driving technology, a little more than a week after the death of Elaine Herzberg by an Uber self-driving car. How Waymo navigates through Phoenix this year and how it rebuilds the trust between communities and autonomous tech developers remains to be seen.