Waymo’s Driverless Deployment is Already Here
Dec. 10, 2020—After years of discussion, testing and preparation, Waymo launched one of the nation’s first fully-autonomous ride-hailing services in Phoenix, Ariz. Now, driverless robo-taxis can be spotted on the street in nearby Chandler, but how did they get there?
Sean Duggan, police chief of Chandler’s Police Department, Kevin Biesty, deputy director of public policy for Arizona’s Department of Transportation, and Michelle Peacock, Waymo’s global head of public policy gathered virtually during the most recent webinar hosted by Partners for Automated Education to explain what made Waymo’s deployment possible.
There must also be involvement across agencies during the testing phases, said Duggan.
To illustrate the importance of transparency, Duggan recalled a summer day in 2017 when an assortment of first responder vehicles ran their sirens at full volume past an autonomous vehicle.
He said it was part of a testing procedure to ensure the autonomous vehicle could recognize various sirens and the meanings attached to it. The pitch of the siren is able to indicate to the vehicle that an emergency vehicle is approaching and it must take the necessary actions.
Duggan also said the local fire department has played an equally important role throughout the deployment, even making a video to educate others how to interact with the technology. He said the video has now been used by first responders throughout the nation.
Open Communication Lines
Peacock emphasized how important it is to have collaborative relationships with other entities in the autonomous sector.
“Initially it was exciting,” said Duggan, “But then the questions set in.”
How does it work? Will everyone be safe? Who gets the ticket?
Duggan said his department recognized the benefits autonomous technology could have on the safety of Chandler’s residence, but in order to support it, they needed to learn about it.
Establishing a direct line of communication between the participating entities made the deployment possible, said Duggan. By having someone on the other line able to answer questions as they came up, they were able to make progress, and even a blueprint for other cities to follow.
“Working hand in hand with tech companies and understanding and evolving together is the way to do it,” said Biesty.
He also said the state department first looked into autonomous vehicles back in 2011, but at the time, it seemed premature.
“Early on there were no discussions,” he said. “The private sector didn’t trust the government and the government didn’t know what the private sector was doing.” But now he says, “that has been smashed.”
When it comes to educating the community about autonomous vehicles, Duggan said his department is “a neutral entity with one priority—keeping the public safe.”
Biesty echoed Duggan when he said it is not up to the state departments to advocate or promote a certain company’s technology. There is a fine line between public awareness and public promotion and the promotion falls on the technology company.
Peacock said Waymo is extremely invested in educating the public.
“Autonomous language is not something people are fluent in, in their everyday lives,” said Peacock. That is why Waymo has found ways to educate the public, and specifically, communities it is active in.
Peacock says Waymo has advocated for safety and worked to bring awareness in various organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA.
Waymo has helped to educate the public not just in Chandler, but nationally, through its campaign, “Let’s Talk Self-Driving.”
“Let’s Talk Self-Driving” aims to educate the public about autonomous systems and how they work by providing resources such as videos, podcasts, and safety reports.