Alphabet’s Waymo responds to local fury at self-driving cars

29 Aug 2018

A Waymo vehicle waiting in traffic. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

In its effort to test its latest self-driving cars, Waymo has incurred the fury of annoyed residents near its headquarters.

If a self-driving car ecosystem is to develop, the vehicles will need to be properly tested on real roads, in addition to virtual testing.

This is why Alphabet’s autotech division, Waymo, has been busy testing its vehicles on some roads near its headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona.

However, the company has had to respond publicly to criticisms published in a piece by The Information (via CNBC) including comments from nearby residents.

For the past year, Waymo has been testing its cars in the suburban areas of Phoenix with moderate success, but people close to the company have told The Information that Waymo employees regularly have to take back control from the car.

More than a dozen locals quoted in the article claim the cars are a nuisance and dangerous, with one person going as far as to say: “I hate them.”

One local woman said that she almost collided with one of Waymo’s vans because its artificial intelligence decided to suddenly stop when trying to make a right turn. In another instance, a man claimed to have illegally driven around the cars at an intersection in frustration.

Taxi service by end of 2018

Responding to the piece, Waymo asked for patience as its cars are “continually learning” and that “safety remains its highest priority”.

A spokesperson for the company added that Waymo will take feedback from its early rider programme, but not specifically referring to incidents cited in the original article.

Waymo also said it was still on course to launch its first commercial self-driving taxi service by the end of 2018, but every car will have a human “chaperone” inside to keep an eye on it.

Auto manufacturers and tech companies continue to fight a PR battle to win over the public’s opinion in regard to self-driving cars, as seen with Jaguar Land Rover announcing plans to put human-like eyes on the front of cars to see how humans react to the idea.

A Waymo vehicle waiting in traffic. Image: Sundry Photography/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic