Self-driving cars attempt to help alleviate the problems with traffic and safety with current automobiles while also improving convenience and fuel efficiency. Many think that self-driving cars are the technology of the future, but more and more every day, they are trending toward the technology of the present. In large part, this is due to the innovations of Waymo, a part of Alphabet Inc.
The Google Self-Driving Car Project, which is known as Waymo, started more than ten years ago with only a handful of engineers. After decades of research and development and countless hours of testing, evaluating, and manufacturing prototypes, the first automated vehicle will hit the road in just a few short months. The first self-driving automobile they employ with be a paid robotaxi which will operate in Phoenix and the surrounding metro. The initial launch will incorporate 600 vehicles.
Beyond the initial launch, Waymo has future plans to add more than 82,000 vehicles. In large part, these cars will be Chrysler hybrid vans and electric Jaguar SUVs. The time period for this expansion will still be many more years, with future cities also on the distant horizon. When the CTO of Waymo, Dmitri Dolgov , was specifically asked about the coming launch and future of self-driving vehicles, he said exuberated immense confidence, even in the face the fatal accident that happened as Uber was testing their self-driving car. In addition, Dolgov said, “At a high level, there are maybe three things that have to come together. You have to build maps and maintain them, in order to scale and deploy this technology. You have to build and design self-driving hardware, lasers, radars, cameras, computers, and then you have to build and be able to deploy the full software stack. In all of the three main pillars of our system, we’re at a point where we are industrializing the whole thing.”
In large part, Dolgov is responsible for the success of Waymo. He has only led the program for the last few years, but his education and professional background gave him the tools and experience he needed to succeed in the role. Dolgov earned a Masters degree from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Michigan. Additionally, he added to those degrees by completing postdoctoral research at Stanford and getting his name on more than 90 patents. Dolgov was a part of the program initially and stayed with it even as several others on the team took on other opportunities.
In addition to Dolgov, Waymo’s success can be contributed to a few other factors. As the parent company of Waymo is Google and Alphabet Inc., the project has the access to suppliers across the globe which were able to manufacture or customize the high-tech parts they needed. The team has also achieved success in their efforts to optimize the car before the first even hit the streets. They have worked and continue to work tirelessly to instigate efficient designs and utilized cost-cutting measures. In one case, they were able to cut the cost of a lidar unit by 90% through these efforts.
They have achieved remarkable success designing and testing their first self-driving car over the past ten years, it will still take a few more months or years to be able to definitely tell if their confidence and designs will pay off.