This is The Right Way To Encourage Local Investment: Regulation Reform, Not Subsidies

Via Zero Hedge:

Waymo, a unit of Alphabet, is set to launch a ride-sharing service similar to Uber, but with no human driver behind the wheel. Officials in Arizona granted Waymo a permit to operate as a transportation network company (TNC) across the state on Janurary 24, following the company’s initial application on Janurary 12, Bloomberg  reported.

The imminent release of a robotic fleet of fully autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans could be flooding the highways of Arizona, causing major headaches for Uber.

Since April of last year, Waymo has been experimenting with its self-driving fleet on the human guinea pigs of Phoenix, offering residents 24/7 access to the free ridesharing service. TNC status is a significant step for Waymo, because it now authorizes the company to start charging its passengers.

Waymo’s vehicles in the Phoenix area have driven more than 4 million miles on public roads. In November, the company said a portion of its cars in the Phoenix area were operating in fully autonomous mode, what’s known in industry parlance as level four autonomy.

My understanding is that Phoenix has become the world's center for testing and refining self-driving vehicles mainly by simply allowing it to happen when other municipalities threw up numerous regulatory hurdles (not just to self-driving cars but also, like Austin and Las Vegas, to ride-sharing companies).  I wish more business relocation competition among municipalities was on this basis rather than competing subsidy proposals.

I have seen driver-less Waymo vans a number of times around town, mostly around Tempe and Chandler.  They seemed to do fine once one gets over the shock of seeing the driver's seat empty.  I tried to sign up for their early rider program but apparently they are focusing on Phoenix's southeastern suburbs (e.g. Mesa, Tempe) right now.  I will try again as the program rolls out so I can publish a ride report here.  Probably I will hate it because the car will faithfully stay within the speed limit and thus drive me crazy.

  • Ombibulous

    Looking forward to a first hand report.

    I live in Cleveland, and I'm very skeptical of the ability of autonomous car designers to overcome the challenges of inclement weather and roadway aberrations. The inputs, processing power, and judgement needed to make decisions in literally an infinite number of non-normal situations seem beyond what can be designed into autonomous driving systems today, or anytime soon.

  • Tim Broberg

    As to the speed limit, I really wonder if production autonomous cars will come to have options for how strictly to obey the speed limit and how to trade off economy vs speed vs comfort vs safety, etc.

    You can imagine that a "late for work" button would be useful at times.

  • John Moore

    I recently passed a small fleet of Uber AV's down in Tempe. They were right at the speed limit. One came up behind a vehicle stopped in the lane (with emergency flashers). It just sat there. It may have gone around the vehicle after I passed, but it sure didn't behave like a normal driver.

  • marque2

    Your car already handles these conditions better than you do. The anti-lock brakes, traction control, and stability control have been included in cars, because it works much better than humans can - except for a few highly highly trained specimens. I don't see inclement weather being a problem actually. I wouldn't be surprised if an ice storm suddenly glazes the freeway, though, that just like regular drivers, a few autonomous drivers will also skid off the road. I have been through that - it is all of a sudden, you can't see because your sensor screen has been coated with ice. You can't brake or accelerate, or you will automatically skid off the freeway. But then there is really nothing you can do, if the autonomous car were unlucky enough to be changing lanes when the event happened, skideroo.

  • Peabody

    I think there are a couple points to consider. First, survey after survey shows that the vast majority of Americans believe they are better than average drivers. Obviously this can't be true, but does indicate that Americans over-estimate their driving ability. How that compares to the driving ability of an autonomous vehicle is of course a different question. Secondly, it would be interesting to see accident data as my guess is that a small percentage of the worst drivers cause a highly dis-proportional number of accidents. So if, for example, 10% of drivers cause 50% of accidents, then even if autonomous vehicles are slightly worse than the average human driver, the overall number of accidents will decrease. Projecting further, even for very good drivers accidents could go perhaps down as they would be less likely to be plowed into by a bad driver. accidents.

  • James

    I don’t see this as likely. The car manufacturer would be liable for any speeding or other violations.

  • Tim Broberg

    Could they could reduce their liability further by driving 5mph slower then?
    ...and another 5, and another?

    Assuming you're not at a deer crossing, they know how fast they can react and can pick a safe speed based on traffic density, road conditions, etc.

  • James

    Maybe, but I was just referring to the liability of the auto manufacturer having to pay traffic tickets.

  • billsteigerwald

    Phoenix may seem to you arizonians like the center of driverless cars, but here in Pittsburgh Uber has been testing its autonomous vehicles for several years on what the city government pretends are streets and in its own testing facilities. Pothole detection is just one more thing Uber has to worry about here that Waymo doesn't have to worry about in weather-less Phoenix. Pittsburgh not only has hundreds of bridges, scores of hills and hollows and san francisco-topping slopes with streets that are really driveways, it has several major two-lane tunnels, 1950s freeway capacities and a hundred years of horrible highway "design." Plus three major rivers. And no grids. Plus we have terrible drivers -- either too old or too enamored or the tail-gaiting powers of their big pickups. There will be autonomous cars, buses and vans puttering along flat, gridded, snowless cities like Phoenix, but both in your town and mine, where I've been a happy Yellow Cab- destroying libertarian Uber driver for three years, here will always be a need for a human driver to get your sorry drunken ass at 3 in the morning.