I’ve been interested and tracking self-driving cars for a long time now, and finally a few months ago I was able to take my first ride in a self-driving car.
My initial reaction from it was really that it was just a crazy cool experience, and I think this will become a lot more common, and I can’t see how this doesn’t become commonplace in the future. Now the real question is how long will that be– a year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, or longer? I hope it’s not 10 years or longer and it seems so much of the technology was there.
Here was the full experience:
I called a ride on my phone, kind of like you call an Uber. I was in San Francisco and took a ride back to my hotel.
The car arrived to pick me up. It seems it had a designated pick up spot a few minutes from where I was so it didn’t come exactly to me. I walked over to it, clicked the button on the app to unlock it.
It started talking out loud, and then just started driving.
It was about a 20 minute ride. It felt like it was going super slow, but I think that’s because it was going the speed limit and most drivers aren’t going the speed limit.
There is no one in the front drivers seat, but you still see the wheel, and see it turning when it is making a turn. I think initially I felt a little nervous because there really is no driver, but after a bit it seems like it is just driving like normal. It comes to a complete stop at a stop sign, which also seems a bit different since I don’t think most human drivers will stop all the way to 0.
Near the end it pulled over and dropped me off. It had a designated drop off spot which was about a few blocks away from my hotel and at the bottom of a hill, which was a bit inconvenient. I’m not sure why it picked this spot, but I’m guessing it had designated some safe drop off and pick up spots.
Maybe a week or so later San Francisco stopped Cruise from operating in San Francisco, which I think is a real shame. It seems in the accident that precipitated it, the initial fault was from a human driver. The real problem for the self-driving cars… is all the other human drivers.
I haven’t taken a Waymo yet but hope to do that soon. From Waymo’s blog, “This year alone, Waymo has served over 700,000 ride-hailing trips with public riders and no human driver.”
Later in the blog they write:
When considering all locations together, compared to the human benchmarks, the Waymo Driver demonstrated:
- An 85% reduction or 6.8 times lower crash rate involving any injury, from minor to severe and fatal cases (0.41 incidence per million miles for the Waymo Driver vs 2.78 for the human benchmark)
- A 57% reduction or 2.3 times lower police-reported crash rate (2.1 incidence per million miles for the Waymo Driver vs. 4.85 for the human benchmark)
This means that over the 7.1 million miles Waymo drove, there were an estimated 17 fewer injuries and 20 fewer police-reported crashes compared to if human drivers with the benchmark crash rate would have driven the same distance in the areas we operate.
I think there is a lot of fear surrounding self-driving cars because they are new, which seems reasonable. But if you look at the Waymo data, it seems that self-driving is just far, far safer than human drivers. The obvious problem here, from a public messaging standpoint is that people are comparing the cars to being perfect instead of comparing them to a human driver as a baseline.
Human drivers are obviously terrible! They aren’t paying attention, or are drunk, or sleep-deprived, or or on their phone, or distracted by something else, or driving angrily or aggressively, or speeding or any number of other things. Even with the baseline today self-driving cars seem better than human driven cars. There still seems to be a long ways to go before they are way more widespread.
The real challenge is getting more people on board which is why the roll out is the real challenge. I think the best strategy is a roll out that continues to expose people to self-driving cars in very safe ways so that more people can get comfortable with them. I think driving at low speeds is just better while they are still new because even if there is an accident, if someone is driving 10-20 miles per hour it’s probably much more likely to be ok than an issue at 50+ miles per hour.
My prediction would be that it would be a lot more common place in 5 years (2028). And for Waymo I would guess 1.7m rides in 2024, and 3.5m rides in 2025. I would hope it could continue exponentially if they continue to see success.
Here’s a 3 minute video of part of the ride:
16 minute ride video