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Waymo Waybetta in Los Altos

By Gary Hedden

You have seen them. A lot of them – Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler minivans. Waymo is an independent company under the Google umbrella that started testing in 2009 and became Waymo in 2016. They have completed 5 million miles of self-driven operation and billions of miles of simulated driving.

Sydnee Journel at the Grant Park presentation.

Their goal is safety. The bar is pretty low actually, as 94% of US crashes involve human error. The cars you see in Los Altos are usually self-driven; the operator is there in case of emergency as required by California law. Waymo has applied for a permit to begin self-driving operations here just like the operation in Phoenix, where Waymo is accident-free. They intend to provide a ride-hailing service similar to Lyft and Uber.

In a presentation at Grant Park, October 17, Sydnee Journel, Local Policy & Community Manager, explained all of this and took questions. For example:

What if the painted street lines are worn out and obscure?

Waymo has mapped everything to very high precision and already knows the roads very well.

What if there is a sudden unexpected move by a bicyclist?

Their cars track objects far in advance, the length of three football fields, and they anticipate unexpected moves and are ready for them.

Who covers the cost if there is an accident?

Liability is being actively discussed with the insurance companies.

Admiring the Waymo car.

If an accident is about to happen, will Waymo make an ethical judgment about what to hit – for example, a baby buggy or a brick wall?

Tough question, but Waymo expects far fewer accidents and will base such decisions on what/who is more vulnerable, not what/who is more valuable.

We also got a chance to see, but not sit in or ride, the Waymo cars.

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