Video Sheds Light on How Waymo Pulled Ahead in the Self-Driving Car Race

Prepare to see 'Waymo' driverless vehicles on the roads.

A 9-year-old was awarded their driver’s permit in California on Tuesday. More precisely, Google’s 9-year-old autonomous vehicle startup Waymo was granted the first permit in California by the Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday to begin driverless testing on public roads. Cue a fleet of cute, white minivans.

Waymo’s can thank regulatory changes from the California DMV for its newfound freedom. Among the changes, one allows companies to go without traditional car parts that wouldn’t be necessary for driverless cars, such as steering wheels, an attractive move for those with long-term aspirations to scale up production. After applications opened last April, Waymo emerged as the first successful recipient, though more will likely follow.

If you live in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, or Palo Alto, you have a fair shot at seeing the driverless minivans in action. The permit allows Waymo’s vehicles to drive in (light) rain or shine, and both during day or night on city streets, rural roads, and highways with speed limits capped at 65 miles per hour. It can also handle foggy conditions.

Of course, mother nature doesn’t limit herself to light rain, sun, or fog.

“If a Waymo vehicle comes across a situation it doesn’t understand, it does what any good driver would do: comes to a safe stop until it does understand how to proceed,” the Waymo team told *CNBC*. “For our cars, that means following well-established protocols, which include contacting human engineers and testers at Waymo for help in resolving the issue.”

Get ready to see a lot more of these cruising down California highways. 


To be fair, Waymo has driven far more than any teenage driver needs to qualify for a license. In a simulation software called Carcraft, 25,000 virtual self-driving cars collectively drive about 8 million miles a day, according to a report in The Atlantic. That’s over 16 times to the moon and back in a single day, all in the name of collecting data. Earlier this month, Waymo also announced that its real-life vehicles have logged more than 10 million miles on public roads since their inception in 2009.

When Will Waymo Start Giving Rides?

Honestly, who knows. The secretive company didn’t even tell the public about its first fully driverless ride — held in October 2015 — until over a year later, in December 2016.

Whenever the California launch starts taking human cargo, the first lucky passengers will be Waymo employees. This won’t be the first time Waymo takes the role of chauffeur: In April 2017, the CEO of Waymo, John Krafcik, beckoned Arizonans to join their first early riders program in Phoenix. The company hopes to level-up and officially open a ride-hailing service in Phoenix before the end of 2018.

As Waymo prepares to begin casually cruising along California roads, traditional power players in the automobile industry are scrambling to develop electric, connected, and autonomous vehicles under the pressure of EU sanctions and industry disruptors from Silicon Valley. Former competitors like Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen are considering teaming up in a move that would save money by preventing redundant research and lowering production costs.

Uber’s autonomous projects stumbled after hitting a passenger last March. Tesla’s Autopilot mode has accumulated over 1.2 billion miles since 2015 according to MIT Human-Centered AI team, but Waymo logged 2.5 billion virtual miles in 2016 alone.

In the race for fully-functional autonomous vehicles, Waymo seems to be many, many miles ahead.

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