Waymo's Autonomous Vehicles Have Traveled 5 Million Miles
There are numerous players in the autonomous scene. But when it comes to the leaders, Navigate Research recently named General Motors and Waymo as the two companies leading the way forward. Waymo recently announced on Medium that its autonomous vehicles have traveled 5 million miles, solidifying the company's role as a leader.
Getting To 5 Million Sounds Easy
While that's an impressive figure, how the company achieved that number is even more staggering. Getting to 1 million miles took Waymo six years. The company claims that the 4-million-mile mark passed by in just four months, while obtaining 5 million miles took just three months. That's staggering, especially as Google claimed that it had passed the 2-million-mile mark in October of 2016. Waymo states to reach its goals, its self-driving cars have to drive the same amount of miles the average American driver travels in a year in one day.
Waymo's drive to unleash its autonomous minivans across the country is part of the reason why the brand has covered so many miles. But the company isn't just testing its vehicles on real roads. Waymo is also covering an impressive amount of ground in virtual reality. The company claims that its software has traveled 2.7 billion miles virtually. And it's not like those miles are easy, either, as the company can virtually create difficult scenarios for the vehicles to get through.
Traveling 5 million miles is even more impressive when you hear that Uber's self-driving vehicles broke 2 million miles in December.
"In raw miles, Waymo is by far the leader," said Grayson Brulte, a Beverly Hills-based driverless consultant, reports Forbes. "They're like Jesse Owens or Carl Lewis — running a 100-meter dash around everybody."
How Many Miles Is Enough?
While Waymo's quick to display its impressive figures, Forbes claims the company could still be a long way off from having the amount of miles it needs to get its autonomous cars on the road. The outlet cites a study conducted by RAND Corp. that claimed automakers and technology companies would have to cover hundreds of millions or even billions of miles of actual driving to demonstrate the reliability of driverless vehicles. So in that regard, Waymo, and everyone else, is still far behind.
"They do have a meaningful lead — nobody else comes close to the millions of miles Waymo has driven on roads over the past decade," said Nidhi Kalra, a San Francisco-based RAND scientist. "It means they are finding the rarer and trickier situations and learning more and more. There's just no true substitute for this."
A lot of automakers, Waymo included, have gone down the route of creating complex machines that allows them to complete a lot of testing virtually. Waymo, for example, has its own Carcraft system that allows them to have roughly 25,000 driverless cars virtually driving around America at one time. But those systems, regardless of how complex and high-tech they may be, aren't capable of providing autonomous vehicles with real-life experience of having to share the road with others.
Nothing Beats Real-World Testing
Waymo is also quick to point out that it's real-life testing has taken place in all sorts of locations and in various weather conditions. The brand claims that its driverless vehicles have covered miles in Michigan and San Francisco and pretty much anything else in between. While that may be the case at the moment, the brand has clearly traveled the most amount of miles in warmer climates when it first started testing back in 2009. But that doesn't take away from the company's impressive feat.
And for every mile that one of its autonomous vehicles covers in the real word, Waymo, as Forbes claims, uploads the accompanying data to the cloud and shares it across its entire fleet of vehicles. This results in a continuous learning process for the software that's packed into each and every car. That, according to Waymo, is integral to helping the vehicles become better drivers.
"We've now test driven in 25 U.S. cities, gaining experience in different weather conditions and terrains: from the snow streets of Michigan to the steep hills of San Francisco, to the desert conditions of Greater Phoenix," said Waymo in its blog post. "And because the lessons we learn from one vehicle can be shared with the entire fleet, every new mile counts even more."
As Forbes points out, Waymo's decision to make every mile a teachable moment for not just one vehicle, but for every single autonomous car in its fleet is what makes the brand a leader. Waymo consistently does well in its annual tallies, which is required by California's Department of Motor Vehicles and is used to dictate how many disengagements an autonomous vehicle had and how many times a human driver has had to take control of the vehicle.
Forbes claims that Waymo had 0.18 disengagements per thousand miles last year. That's a lot better than what General Motors Cruise, the second-best performer, was capable of achieving with 0.80 disengagements per thousand miles.
Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University and Director of the college's Center for Automotive Research believes that covering a lot of actual on-road miles could be a way for Waymo to create a statistical comparison to an actual human driver.
"Humans tend to have roughly one fatal crash every 100 million vehicle miles traveled, so 5 million is still too small to compare on that basis," he told Forbes. But if a vehicle focuses on one particular scenario that's difficult, "you can get a handle on these from much less than 5 million miles, assuming those miles are well distributed — not all on a couple of freeways, for instance," Gerdes stated.
Adding real-world miles will also help Waymo cover more ground in its computer simulation, as well. "These additional miles provide insight into how likely certain situations are and what sort of variability exists," said Gerdes. "This enables increasingly refined models that can point out potentially troublesome or critical situations for simulation."
Waymo plans to offering a public service that will chauffeur passengers around without a driver, giving everyone a first-hand look at just how helpful and necessary covering a lot of miles is to creating autonomous vehicles.
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