Waymo’s plan to launch a transportation service with self-driving cars in Phoenix, Arizona, later this year has a bit more riding on it than usual. Phoenix is just 10 miles from Tempe, Arizona, where a self-driving test car from rival Uber killed a pedestrian in March of this year. No pressure, Waymo.

The company made a strong case Tuesday morning at Google I/O for how AI technology made its self-driving cars ready to hit the streets solo. But one of its strongest examples also showed how a self-driving car could intelligently scare the bejeezus out of a rider. It’ll be interesting to see how perceptions of safety work their way into the self-driving car experience. 

Before we get to the scary driving incident, let’s look at Waymo’s side of the story. At the Tuesday morning keynote, CEO John Krafcik emphasized how advanced Waymo was compared to the competition. “Waymo is the only company in the world with a fleet of fully self-driving cars, with no one in the driver’s seat, on public roads,” he pointed out. 

Krafcik highlighted the positive human experiences from Waymo’s Early Rider Project, where Phoenix, Arizona residents rode in self-driving test vehicles. Videos showed a mother and child, a pair of selfie-ready teens, and a sleepy man, among others, laughing, chatting, or even napping.

waymo self driving car google io 2018 senior couple jim barbara2 Google

Waymo CEO John Krafcik highlighted Jim and Barbara, an elderly couple, as the kind of people who would benefit from the company’s self-driving cars. 

Krafcik pointed to the real-world example of Jim and Barbara, an elderly couple that didn’t want to lose mobility even if they could no longer drive. “These are the people we’re building it for,” he stressed.

Waymo is serious: No driver, no minder

Waymo’s is committed to a driverless experience for its service. “A fully self-driving car will pull up,” Krafcik promised, “with no one in the driver’s seat, to whisk them away to their destination.”

As for safety, Krafcik explained how Google’s technology was a fundamental advantage for Waymo. “We can enable this future because of the breakthroughs and investments we’ve made in AI,” he said.

Krafcik cited a project from several years earlier, where researchers used Google’s powerful neural networks to reduce pedestrian detection errors from about 1 in 4 to about 1 in 400, in a matter of months. The company didn’t say what its error rate was currently, but it would obviously have to be significantly better than 1 in 400 by now to be ready for public roads. 





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