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Waymo launches its one trusted tester program for San Francisco

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Autonomous vehicle company Waymo recently kicked off its One Trusted Tester program in San Francisco. It’s effectively a feedback program where riders can share their experiences directly with the team to help shape the future of autonomous driving in exchange for free rides. Can they convince those without concerns about the safety of autonomous vehicles to travel in them? 

San Francisco’s streets are busy with traffic. There are pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, and emergency vehicles. Then, there’s the cable cars, trolleys, streetcars, and light rail vehicles that define the cityscape.

The Alphabet-owned company has had autonomous vehicles on the roads of San Francisco since 2008 and launched the US’s only public, commercial ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona. The program has no humans controlling the vehicles either in-car or remotely in October 2020. People can hail the cars via smartphone, with travel geocached to a 50-square-mile service area.

The brain in the computer is Waymo Driver 

Technology called Waymo Driver powers the company’s autonomous vehicles. The hardware includes lidar, cameras, radar, and a powerful AI computing platform. The software collects information to answer questions in split-second like:

  • Where am I? 
  • What’s around me? 
  • What will happen next? 
  • And what should I do? 

This enables the cars to navigate the roads safely. Waymo contends that the cameras and lidar can spot traffic lights changing at a distance, sprinting pedestrians, and roadworks.

The cars possess the reasoning to handle less common scenarios like a pedestrian carrying a Christmas tree. The company explains its ability to reason: 

If we pull up next to a bus by a crosswalk on Beach Street in Fisherman’s Wharf, our Driver can reason that hidden passengers may be getting off and that they may soon cross the street.

Waymo’s making all the right noises but has to convince the fearful 

The problem blocking autonomous vehicle progression is that a good chunk of the general population is scared of autonomous vehicles. Even semi-autonomous cars with a driver behind the wheel have done a poor show of converting people to the cause, crashing into blind Paralympians and emergency vehicles. Perhaps rightly so, seeing as how we have yet to truly attain Level 5 autonomy, which essentially translates to a car able to drive without any human interaction.

​​Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) is a coalition of industry players and nonprofits that aims to improve the public’s understanding of autonomous vehicles. They surveyed 1200 adults in the US in 2020 and found that 48% of Americans surveyed say they “would never get in a taxi or ride-share vehicle that was being driven autonomously.” Only58% think safe AVs will be available in 10 years, and 20% believe they will never be safe.