Here's what the future of self-driving cars looks like
John Krafcik is the CEO of Waymo, one of the largest self-driving car technology companies in the world. Here's what he had to say about the company, and the future of self-driving vehicles.
What do you see the autonomous car looking like in 10 years?
Just over 10 years ago, we were founded as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, driven by a mission to make the roads safer for all people. We’ve come a long way since then with over 10 million miles driven on public roads, over 7 billion miles driven in simulation, and the recent launch of Waymo One, our first commercial ride-hailing service, in Phoenix.
I believe that in the next 10 years, fully self-driving cars will be available in more communities and part of our everyday routines. Not only will this make transportation easier and more accessible, but we’re convinced self-driving technology will also make our roads safer.
What’s really exciting is how we can apply self-driving technology across far more than just passenger vehicles. We’re building our driver to help address the growing shortage of truck drivers in the U.S, enabling the autonomous transportation of goods across thousands of highway miles. Just last year, we ran a successful pilot in Atlanta where our self-driving trucks carried freight bound for Google’s data centers.
A Chrysler minivan with self-driving tech
Do you think in 50 years most cars will be self driving?
Given how fast self-driving technology is progressing, I think it’s likely that in 50 years, every personal vehicle will be manufactured with fully autonomous capability enabled. You may know that today, many vehicles coming off assembly lines around the world have some low level of driver assistance built in -- features like adaptive cruise control, stability control, and automatic braking. This isn’t full autonomy, but it is a step in the right direction for safety.
Will most vehicles be fully autonomous 50 years from now? When you ask a group of people if they love to drive, most people say yes. But when you ask the question in a slightly different way, “Do you love driving your commute?”, most people would probably say, “Not so much.” That’s just the problem we’re trying to solve at Waymo. We don’t want to do away with driving altogether, but rather give people the option of no longer doing the driving they consider unpleasant, like daily commutes to and from work. I have the feeling that there will still be some people even 50 years from now who, just for fun, still choose to take the wheel themselves.
Many people do not want to be driven by their cars.
What will it take for people to accept autonomous vehicles?
It’s important to remember that many innovations throughout history have required a shift in attitudes in order for the public to accept them.
If we take the example of ride-hailing and look at the statistics, we see a rapid increase in the percentage of Americans using these services today. In 2015, just 15% of Americans said they had used a ride-hailing service, according to Pew, and today, it’s clear these services have become part of people’s daily lives and routines. There’s been a pretty rapid shift in a short period of time.
While there are many factors to consider as to why this increase happened, there’s undoubtedly an acceptance and a trust component to this that was necessary in order for these services to scale at this rate over a three-year period.
By demonstrating our commitment to constantly improving our technology and prioritizing safety above all else, we hope the public will grow to accept and trust Waymo too. As an example, we’ve been driving for more than two years in Phoenix, Arizona, and we’ve been so pleased at the overwhelmingly positive reception we’ve received from our riders and residents of the community.
Waymo's self-driving reference vehicle, Firefly 1
Most people drive over the speed limit. Your cars drive at exactly the limit.
This could cause other drivers to pass dangerously How is this being addressed
We believe self-driving vehicles hold the promise to improve road safety and offer new mobility options to millions of people. Whether they’re saving lives or helping people run errands, commute to work, or drop kids (like you!) off at school, fully self-driving vehicles hold enormous potential to transform people’s lives for the better.
Safety is at the core of our mission at Waymo. Did you know that every year, over 1.3 million lives are lost to traffic crashes around the world, and in the U.S. the number of tragedies is growing? A common element of these crashes is that 94% involve human error. Driving is not as safe or as easy as it should be, while distracted driving is on the rise -- including folks who text while they’re behind the wheel. We believe our technology could save thousands of lives now lost to traffic crashes every year.
It’s true that our Waymo vehicles prioritize safety above all else—and that means abiding by posted speed limits, driving cautiously and defensively. If self-driving cars are going to earn the public’s acceptance and trust, they need to be the safest driver on the road. And importantly, we (and other researchers) have found that if we drive the speed limit, other cars are more likely to follow our example and drive more responsibly.
You can check out more about our approach to safety in our Safety Report, which provides an overview of how we safely test and deploy this technology, and the work we’re doing to make it safe and easy to use.
Waymo's Jaguar F-Pace
Do you think you will ever sell Waymo vehicles to the public?
At Waymo, we actually don’t consider ourselves a car company – our mission is to build the world’s most experienced driver. What that means is we build the software, hardware, and compute power that enables a vehicle to see, understand, and appropriately behave on our roads. Right now, we’re focused on scaling our ride-hailing service, currently in Phoenix, to more people so that they can experience what it’s like to be in a Waymo vehicle. We’re also pursuing a number of other potential applications of our driver, including in long-haul trucking, last mile solutions like delivery, and licensing.
I can imagine that someday we may see a world in which, several years from now, someone owns a car they love, but wants to give that car the power to drive itself at times. Maybe that person would order up a Waymo Driver option on a new version of that car, so that it can takeover for those drives -- like daily commutes back and forth from work -- that aren’t as fun. That person will then have time back to do whatever they choose, whether that’s chat with family and friends, get some work done, or just relax.
Waymo has also developed a self-driving truck
Currently, do you have any competition?
There are other companies working on developing autonomous vehicle technology, but we’re all very different. Creating a safer experience on our roads is an urgent problem to solve, and I believe that all of us working on self-driving technology need to work together to ensure we create the safest experience that the world expects of us. I’m proud to lead a company that prioritizes safely scaling this technology and strives to educate the public on how AVs work and the benefits they can bring.
Waymo's fleet depot
How do you see your cars most benefiting our society?
We founded our company on the belief that self-driving vehicles can provide a safe and easy way for people and things to get around. So many lives are lost to traffic incidents, and the vast majority are attributed to human error. There’s a clear benefit to investing in technology capable of mitigating those errors.
Aside from the safety benefits the technology provides, we truly want to see as many people benefit from our vehicles as possible. To make this a reality, we work closely with our early riders, residents of the communities in which we drive, policymakers, and many other groups -- like Mothers Against Drunk Driving and AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah (AAA NCNU) -- to create a technology that can make it safe and easy for everyone to get around.
Whether it’s providing a safe ride home after a night out, an easy commute to work, or creating last-mile solutions for communities and people lacking access to public transportation, increasing this access and mobility in a safe and effective way is our major focus.