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Autonomous Vehicles

Published on April 5th, 2017 | by James Ayre


California Stats Show Uber’s Self-Driving Tech Is ~5,000 Times Worse Than Waymo’s (Google’s)

April 5th, 2017 by  

Newly published statistics from California show that Uber’s self-driving cars are far and away the worst of the 6 major firms testing in the state with regard to disengagement rates — the rates at which drivers/engineers are forced to take control of the car because of limitations or problems with the self-driving tech.

To put exact figures to that claim: Uber’s self-driving vehicles apparently experienced a disengagement once every mile or so (yes, once every ~1 mile). This compares to a disengagement rate of around once every 5,128 miles for Waymo’s (Google’s) self-driving vehicles. Waymo is apparently far and away the leader as far as California’s statistics go.

Uber’s disengagement rate is pretty amazing considering that the company performed a total of 20,354 miles of testing in the state before being banned. I suppose that the state of the company’s tech is likely one of the reasons it didn’t want to go the official route in California as regards testing — bad PR.

By comparison, Waymo has performed more than 500,000 miles of self-driving vehicle testing in California over the last year.

The Guardian provides more: “Between Uber and Waymo sits Nissan, with one disengagement every 146 miles and a total of 4,099 miles driven. BMW, Tesla, and Mercedes all also beat Uber’s disengagement rate, although none of the 3 firms have filed more than 1,000 miles of testing in the last 12 months. …

“The figures shed new light on the ongoing lawsuit between Waymo and Uber. The latter company is accused of stealing intellectual property after it acquired a self-driving truck company, Otto, which had been founded by Anthony Levandowski, a former Waymo employee. The technology in question is the design of the lidar array, the light-based imaging system that sits on the top of self-driving cars to help them see the world around them.”

In other words, even if Waymo couldn’t block Uber’s use of what seems to be Waymo tech that Levandowski lifted (presumably, because he thought he had a right to it?), Uber apparently has a lot of catching up to do in order to get to the self-driving levels Waymo and others are at.

The analyst at Edison Investment Research that compiled the comparison being discussed, Richard Windsor, commented: “Google is 5,000 times better than Uber at autonomous driving. Although Google is suing Uber for the alleged theft of its lidar design, it does not seem to have helped Uber much as it appears to be by far the worst at autonomous driving. This is still the case when one includes the regular car companies that most people have written off as having very little to offer in the new world of digital and autonomous cars.”

Windsor continued: “The best measure of an autonomous driving solution is how often the driver has to take over to correct shortcomings in the autonomous driving software. Regulations in California require those that test in the state to submit this data but typically, they all submit it in different ways. There are also different types of disengagement such as when the car is going to hit something (critical) or when the safety driver feels uncomfortable (ordinary). Furthermore, companies test their cars in different conditions, meaning the data can really only be used as indication. However, the contrasts are so stark that we think that meaningful conclusions can be drawn about how advanced the autonomous driving solutions from different players really are.”

Those are very good points. While the figures for the different companies aren’t directly comparable (if one is to be honest/accurate), the vast disparity between Waymo and Uber is striking. Waymo certainly appears to be far closer to being market ready.



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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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