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Those who thought self-driving vehicles with no backup human driver was decades away are about to find out the future starts in 2018 as Waymo Shifts to Robot-Only Chauffeurs with commercial service starting in 2018.

Waymo technicians are already hailing its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in and around Phoenix via a mobile app and leaving it to the artificial intelligence operating the vehicles to figure out how to get to requested destinations. Within a few months, Waymo vans loaded with laser LiDAR, radar, cameras, computers, AI and no human safety drivers will pick up Arizonans registered in its “Early Riders” program.

In May it announced plans for an autonomous vehicle pilot program with ride-hailing service Lyft, and in June inked a service deal with rental car giant Avis to help maintain its Phoenix area test fleet. That month Waymo also disclosed that it’s testing self-driving technology on large commercial trucks.

Waymo minivans operate at SAE Level 4 autonomous capability which means they can drive without a human at the wheel in most circumstances. They are trying to reach Level 5 capability, in which vehicles can drive anywhere a human can under all conditions.

"Someday these cars will drive themselves. That day is today," says a mom who watches young kids get into a Waymo van in a test service now operating in Phoenix.

I seem to recall readers telling me that parents would never let their kids get in such a vehicle.

Inquiring minds may wish to download Waymo's 43 page PDF on who the technology work.s

Self-Driving Vehicle Sensors and Cybersecurity

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Waymo security practices are built on the foundation of Google’s Security processes and are informed by publications like the NHTSA Cybersecurity Guidance and the Automotive Information Sharing and Analysis Center’s (Auto-ISAC) Automotive Cybersecurity Best Practices. Waymo has also joined the Auto-ISAC, an industry-operated initiative created to enhance cybersecurity awareness and collaboration across the global automotive industry.

Real World Experience

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Over the last eight years, Waymo has tested our vehicles in four U.S. states and self-driven in more than 20 cities—from sunny Phoenix, AZ to rainy Kirkland, WA—accumulating more than 3.5 million autonomous miles in the process. Driving in Phoenix has tested sensors and software in desert conditions, including extreme temperatures and dust in the air. Waimo says it knows how to navigate around new types of vehicles, like watering trucks that move 3 mph on 45 mph roads while spraying plants in road medians. Austin provided horizontal traffic signals for the first time, and Kirkland gave Waymo wet weather practice.

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Simulated Image

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The simulated imagery shown demonstrates how Waymo software assigns predictions to each object surrounding their own vehicle — other vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, etc.

Self-Driving Future Arrives in 2018

The self-driving future that allegedly was still decades away arrives in 2018, in actual paid-for commercial service.

I still expect naysayers to tell me about snow and ice and other situations that will make self-driving impossible. However, the worse the conditions, the safer self-driving will be.

As I have pointed out before, substrate mapping can see through six inches of snow. All it takes is mapping the roads. Highway transmitters might be coming as well. And of course, this is only 2018.

Ford claims it will offer self-driving vehicles by 2021. 2021 is still over three years away.

Widespread adoption by the average person may be slow, but mass adoption by trucks will happen within a year the department of transportation allows self-driving trucks on the highways.

I suggest that by 2022 a huge percentage if not an outright the majority of trucks on the highways will be self-driving.

Uber and Lyft plan fleets of self-driving cars. Those who drive for a living, seriously need to think about their next job.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock