Waymo CEO: Self-Driving Cars Racking Up 25,000 Miles a Day

Waymo’s boast that its autonomous vehicles have driven more than 8 million miles on public roads highlights the Google-backed company’s AV leadership as it prepares to launch a commercial “robotaxi” service in Phoenix later this year.

The Waymo self-driving fleet is racking up real-world miles at a rate of 25,000 per day, CEO John Krafcik tweeted on Friday, July 20. He spoke that morning at the National Governors Association Summer Meeting in Santa Fe, N.M.

With at least 600 AVs on the road in 25 US cities and a fleet of driverless minivans already giving free rides to a select group of consumers in the Phoenix area, Waymo has a commanding position in the industry, at least for now.

It plans to open up its Arizona robotaxi service to the general public this year, though it hasn’t said exactly when.

The figures posted Friday demonstrate Waymo’s momentum. Last month, the company had logged 7 million miles on public roads, according to a graph Krafcik tweeted Friday. He also said total miles driven in simulation have surpassed 5 billion, roughly double the total as of last December.

In addition to the Phoenix region and the San Francisco Bay Area, Waymo has tested cars in places like Detroit, Atlanta, Austin, Texas, and notoriously snowy Truckee, Calif.

All that testing may be paying off. In California in 2017, Waymo reported the longest average distance traveled between “disengagements,” or cases where humans have to take over for a car’s self-driving system.

The company is poised to dominate an AV industry that could be worth $2.8 trillion by 2030, with the biggest established automakers being its only potential rivals, investment bank UBS concluded in a report released in May.

GM’s Cruise Automation subsidiary, which is testing a fleet of factory-built Chevrolet Bolt AVs and promises a commercial launch next year, may be Waymo’s closest US competitor. Rival Uber’s road-testing program has been on hold since the fatal crash involving one of its test vehicles in March. Waymo secured a $245 million stake in Uber as part of a trade-secrets lawsuit settlement in February.

But much could still change in this new field, where even the main technologies for sensing a car’s surroundings may be up for grabs. Last week, Silicon Valley startup Light announced it had raised $121 million to develop its multi-camera sensor system, partly for self-driving cars. Most AVs today use Lidar, a radar-like laser technology, but Light says its system could be cheaper, lighter and more effective.

Waymo grew out of Google’s AV group, which started in 2009 and garnered attention for the cute, bubble-like cars it put on roads in Mountain View, Calif. Access to Google resources gives Waymo an advantage, CEO Krafcik said in May. In 2013, the AV team exponentially improved its pedestrian detection system within months through working with an artificial intelligence team at Google, he said.

Now Waymo is aggressively recruiting partners to build a diverse fleet of vehicles suited to different uses. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles may provide more than 60,000 Chrysler Pacifica minivans under a deal announced in May. Waymo is also working with Jaguar to produce up to 20,000 self-driving I-PACE electric SUVs and reportedly has sought a vehicle deal with Honda.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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