Google/Waymo ceased the testing of so-called Level 3 self-driving vehicle systems — where drivers are expected to take control quickly when the need arises — after some drivers literally started falling asleep during testing, the company’s CEO John Krafcik has revealed.
The decision followed experiments back in 2013 involving the filming of self-driving vehicle drivers/users, which showed some users sleeping, quite a few staring endlessly at their smartphones, and some even putting on makeup — all while traveling at speeds of up to 56 mph.
The comments were made as part of a revelation that Google/Waymo had originally been planning to release a highway-only self-driving tech system in order to rapidly get a product to market — before then deciding that such systems are too dangerous, and would involve too much liability.
“What we found was pretty scary,” Krafcik noted during a media tour of one of Waymo’s testing facilities. “It’s hard to take over because they have lost contextual awareness.”
“Krafcik said the company determined a system that asked drivers to jump in at the sound of an alert was unsafe after seeing videos from inside self-driving cars during tests. The filmed tests were conducted in 2013, with Google employees behind the wheel. The videos had not been publicly shown until Monday’s event, Waymo spokeswoman Lauren Barriere said,” according to Reuters.
“The company decided to focus solely on technology that didn’t require human intervention a couple of days after the napping incident, said Krafcik, who joined as CEO in 2015. It has also since argued against allowing ‘handoffs’ between automated driving systems and people.”
That’s probably a pretty sensible approach considering how unwilling many drivers are to actually pay attention to the road as is — allowing for even greater carelessness probably wouldn’t be a good idea. Thankfully, fully autonomous driving systems may well get some of the most egregious of drivers in that regard off the roads before too long…
The system in Waymo’s current Chrysler Pacifica minivans, for instance, shouldn’t allow for too much abuse — all that drivers/riders can do is press the button to start the ride and press a button to pull over at the next safe opportunity.
Notably, Krafcik also revealed that the company is getting “close” to greatly expanding its current on-demand taxi service pilot in Phoenix, Arizona.