One of the things that makes California unique in the world of self-driving car development is that it requires developers to submit something called a disengagement report every year.
This disengagement report — not to be confused with DC’s excellent The Dismemberment Plan — is a detailed log of every instance where a human safety driver was forced to take control of a self-driving car during testing on public roads and the situation that caused it. It’s one of the best metrics that the public has of just how advanced a given company’s autonomous car program is.
In past years, Waymo generally reigned supreme as having the fewest number of disengagements per mile traveled, but it would seem like China’s Baidu, and its self-driving car platform went and pulled a Jon Snow on the folks from Mountain View’s Daenerys Targaryen.
Specifically, Baidu managed a staggering 0.06 disengagements per thousand miles traveled, and its four development vehicles traveled a total of 100,300.2 miles in 2019. All of its disengagements (just six in total) happened on surface streets rather than highways or freeways. This was a common theme throughout most of the companies that submitted reports.
Waymo and Cruise tied for second place, both having just 0.08 disengagements per 1,000 miles — which from now on we’ll refer to as Wallys, for brevity’s sake — but they both traveled significantly more miles and fielded many more test cars than did Baidu. Cruise had 227 vehicles on the road that went a combined 831,039.9 miles. Waymo had just 147 cars testing, but, they really piled on the miles — 1,453,137.3 to be exact. That’s equivalent to a little more than three round trips to the moon.
How have those numbers improved since 2018? Significantly, as it turns out. Waymo’s best — and the best of all the reports— was 0.09 Wallys. Baidu’s 0.06 is a pretty serious bump, and even Cruise and Waymo’s own 0.01 Wally drop is nothing to sneeze at.
So, now we’ve seen the best. Which major companies didn’t fare so well in their efforts to produce a self-driving car? Well, unfortunately, the bottom three this year were all legacy vehicle manufacturers. Mercedes-Benz was the best of the worst with 140 Wallys stemming from a field of 18 vehicles traveling a total of 14,238 miles.
The second-worst were the folks from Munich — by that I mean— with a score of 370 Wallys. That was generated by five cars traveling just 21.36 miles. Perhaps if they’d gotten out more, that result would have improved, but we’ll have to see how they do in 2020.
Finally, at the bottom of the proverbial barrel is Toyota Research. Its researchers managed a staggering 1,620 Wallys between six cars traveling just 1,817 miles. One car in particular — VIN number JTHDU1EF3G5020098, the scamp — managed a mind-blowing 900 disengagements all by itself during only 534 test miles.
Now, it’s easy to make jokes, but the fact is that developing self-driving cars is incredibly, insanely, unbelievably, really, really hard. Toyota hasn’t been doing it for as long as some, and while it clearly has a ways to go, we would implore it to just:
Oh, and if you’re curious where Tesla is in all this, don’t worry — Elon & company submitted a disengagement report. The Big T managed to have zero disengagements (yes, zero), but the catch is that it only fielded one car, and that car only traveled 12.2 miles. So, yeah, Full Self-Driving is totally imminent, you guys.