You may not have heard, but the autonomous vehicle is now a reality.
A few days ago, Waymo’s official blog announced the opening, not on a trial basis, of a completely driverless service for the general public in Chandler, Tempe and Mesa, three cities within the Phoenix (Arizona) area with respective populations of 250,000, 200,000 and 500,000. Almost one million people who right now can download an app and order a completely autonomous vehicle with no one at the wheel to take them to their next destination.
The service is not being tested, it is not just a beta development for a closed group of people, it’s not being tried out on a specially designed closed circuit; this is more than just proof of a concept.
Whether you have autonomous vehicles in your city depends on the concerns of legislators or local entrepreneurs: Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, commited his support in 2016 by inviting companies working on this technology to test in his state, and has already obtained his reward. Accumulating the detailed micrographs needed to start up the service - which then takes care of introducing the changes detected by the sensors as the fleet accumulates miles of experience - is simply a matter of time and dedication, which will happen as economic factors come into play.
Micro-mapping the area where the service is now deployed and verifying it with security drivers took Waymo almost three years, which will make for a very slow roll-out at the national level.
But at this point, with legislators now prepared to accept a technology that has undergone millions of kilometers of testing with a negligible accident rate, it is important to understand that the challenge is no longer technological, but economic: the technology has lived up to the expectations of the experts, and although testing under a wider range of environments than Arizona, where bad weather or road quality comes into play, it’s safe to say that self-driving vehicles are already here.
Anyone can come to one of these three cities, download the app, get into one of these vehicles and see how it performs amid the normal traffic of the city. But most importantly, we must now understand that autonomous vehicles are not some technological whim or geeky obsession, but the key lowering road deaths and congestion. The doomsters have been proved wrong, bringing to mind to mind the famous phrase, sometimes attributed to Thomas Edison: “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”