Home Editor's Picks Waymo’s self-driving cars and simulator innovates for safer roads

Waymo’s self-driving cars and simulator innovates for safer roads

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Simulation of the self-driving car. (Submitted by Waymo)

Safe driving is a concern now more than ever – even with technological advancements, cellphones, the radio, and passengers can be a few distractions that take drivers’ attention from the road.

Starting in 2009 as the Google self-driving car project and becoming Waymo in 2016, the company hopes to increase safe driving habits through technology in their self-driving cars and Waymo simulator that enhance drivers’ skills to drive responsibly. Waymo is inviting residents of the Metro Phoenix area including Mesa, Chandler, Tempe and Gilbert to join the first public trial of the self-driving cars as part of their Early Rider Program. According to a blog post on Medium.com by James Stout, lead software engineer, Waymo, the simulator has tested the self-driving cars’ abilities to handle types of traffic signals; such as a flashing yellow arrow that permits cars to turn left at the corner of South Longmore Street and West Southern Avenue in Mesa.

The Waymo simulator creates a virtual world where many real-world scenarios can be tested, and drivers can practice and master skills to drive more safely; in 2016 alone, Waymo cars drove over 2.5 billion simulated miles.

MyNewsMesa.com spoke with Ellice Perez, head of operations for Waymo; and John Lewis, CEO and president of East Valley Partnership, about the self-driving cars and the impact the technology can have on increasing the number of safe drivers on the road.

MyNewsMesa: Why do you think Waymo is an impactful technological innovation in regard to today’s distracted drivers? How do you hope Waymo’s testing will make an impact in the future of safe driving?

Perez: Waymo is a self-driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around. We believe that fully self-driving technology has tremendous potential to save lives, make commuting more enjoyable, and improve mobility for the millions of people who can’t drive today.

Last year, 35,000 people lost their lives on U.S. roads, and 94 percent of crashes on U.S. roadways involve human error or driver distraction. We shouldn’t have to accept this as the cost of driving. Unlike human drivers, our self-driving cars don’t get tired, angry, distracted or drunk. They can see 360 degrees — and across the length of two football fields — as well as in pitch black. With this kind of awareness, we believe that self-driving cars will make our roads safer.

We’re confident in the safety of our self-driving cars because we’ve been developing this technology for more than eight years. In that time, we’ve self-driven more than 3 million miles on public roads, which is equivalent to more than 200 years of driving experience for the average American. That’s why our self-driving cars can handle everything from a vehicle parked on the side of the road, to a cyclist gesturing to change lanes, to even the most unexpected situations, like a man wielding a chainsaw in the street. We’ve even taught our cars to honk!

MyNewsMesa: In what ways do you think this campaign can be used as an educational tool for drivers of all ages?

Perez: The “Let’s Talk Self-Driving” campaign is part of our commitment to public education on self-driving cars, and it’s a first step. We believe that education begins with awareness so we’re starting by informing the public starting with the basics of how we think about safety, how the car works, and the measures we take to make sure our self-driving technology is safe. We will continue to provide opportunities for people to learn about, and get up close to, this self-driving technology.

According to LetsTalkSelfDriving.com: At Foundation for Senior Living, we’re committed to improving the quality of life for seniors. We believe that self-driving cars will enable everyone, regardless of age, to get around and keep their independence.

John Lewis, CEO and president, East Valley Partnership

MyNewsMesa: How does East Valley Partnership support the “Let’s Talk Self-Driving” Campaign?

Lewis: EVP (East Valley Partnership) is one of six partners driving the campaign. In the brainstorming portion of the campaign, we provided feedback and suggestions as Waymo looked to launch this campaign in the Greater Phoenix region.

As part of the launch, we have been active on social media, we have been writing and distributing op-eds, and we have been involved in local media radio broadcasts and media interviews. As one will notice when they visit the website at LetsTalkSelfDriving.com, EVP has a specific emphasis on supporting the business community by saving time. Our message is that Americans spend an average of 50 minutes a day commuting to and from work. That is time that could be spent pursuing more meaningful projects or relaxing as the day finally winds down.

MyNewsMesa: How does this campaign and Waymo’s testing increase safety of Mesa residents?

Lewis: Because human error is involved in 94 percent of today’s crashes, the goal is to eliminate the tragic moments when someone is texting, speeding or dozing off or possibly driving under the influence. There are over 10,000 deaths a year in the country due to drunk driving — each and every one of them is said to be 100 percent preventable. EVP has been pleased to partner with Waymo as the transportation of the future is created because we see the benefits of improved driver safety, reduced congestion on our roads, and increased efficiency in getting people where they need to be.

MyNewsMesa: Why do you think Waymo’s testing is an impactful technological addition to Mesa?

Lewis: The Phoenix East Valley has become a “hotbed” for technology. Waymo has become another asset that is causing other innovation and technology companies to consider our region as their home. The phrase “the rising tide lifts all boats” describes the benefit of Waymo testing their vehicles in Mesa and throughout the Phoenix East Valley. With Mesa’s involvement, as a region we are rising. As Chandler, Tempe, Gilbert and other communities are involved, Mesa is rising.

MyNewsMesa: In what ways do you think Waymo can be used as an educational tool for drivers of all ages?

Lewis: In the same way that a new driver learns through experiencing various road conditions, traffic patterns, changing weather and the impact of unexpected happenings while driving, drivers of all ages can be taught as Waymo sensors and software systems capture information on how to improve safety.  Drivers will also experience the benefit of being in test scenarios of self-driving vehicles as the use of new technology is transferred to their individual knowledge and understanding.

MyNewsMesa: How do you hope Waymo will make an impact in the future of East Valley residents?

Lewis: From the perspective of jobs and economic vibrancy, I would hope that the Phoenix East Valley could someday be labeled as the “Self-Driving Research Capital of the World!” That would be cool.

From the perspective of impacting our daily lives, Waymo technology will improve our road safety, reduce congestion, allow us to spend time on projects that we normally would not be able to do, and our overall quality of life will be elevated.

To learn more about Waymo, visit: Waymo.com.

– Mesa resident Alyssa Tufts is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.

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