Waymo Video Puts Shiny Happy People in Autonomous Minivans

Waymo, the self-driving car division of Google parent company Alphabet, released an upbeat video on YouTube seemingly designed to assuage the doubts of Americans who view with skepticism the safety and security — or even the reality — of autonomous vehicle technology.

In the video, backed by a zippy instrumental soundtrack, Americans of all ages hop into one of Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans for a breezy drive around the sun-drenched streets of Phoenix.

Reactions ranged from excited nervousness (“Oh, this is weird” a mother confides to her laughing daughter), to forthright optimism (This is the future!” one rider confidently tells his friend).

Rapid-fire clips show passengers staring at — what else? — their smartphone screens, taking selfies, while some stifle yawns. One passenger appears to fall asleep mid-ride.

At the end of the ride several passengers exit with an oddly impersonal “Thank you, car,” and the video, which since its Tuesday debut has racked up nearly 50,000 YouTube views, ends with Waymo’s logo.

The company first began test-driving its minivans on public roads in Phoenix without a driver at the wheel in November, and debuted a nearly two minute-long video in April 2017 to help garner support for its early rider program.

As an early rider, Phoenix residents can use Waymo’s self-driving cars to go places they frequent every day — work, school or the movies — to name a few examples.

Waymo then gathers feedback to help the company’s team figure out how self-driving cars will work as the program expands.

The early rider program covers several parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area, including Chandler, Tempe, Mesa and Gilbert.

In February, Waymo won permission from Arizona to turn its self-driving taxi experiment in Phoenix into a commercial service and says it plans to launch the service this year and has ordered “thousands” of self-driving Pacifica minivans for its fleet.

While the ostensible objective of these videos is to demonstrate a bright, shining future where you can take a nap in the backseat while your car drives itself, a less stage-managed reaction emerged from California recently, when reports surfaced of pedestrians physically attacking self-driving vehicles.

In the first incident, reported to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in January, a Chevy Cruise autonomous vehicle operating in autonomous mode in San Francisco was involved in a collision while making a right hand turn.

The Cruise was stopped at a green light in between crosswalks of Valencia Street and 16th Street, waiting for pedestrians to cross over 16th Street, when a different pedestrian from the southwest corner of Valencia and 16th ran across Valencia Street, against the “do not walk” symbol, shouting, and struck the left side of the Cruise AV’s rear bumper and hatch with his entire body.

In the second incident, which occurred while another Cruise AV was under human control, a pedestrian slapped the front passenger window of the car while it was stopped at a light, causing a scratch.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.


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