Its latest simulations are a massive addition to its arsenal against Tesla.
Although there's been a lot of attention recently regarding Tesla's Full Self-Driving Beta testing, another major autonomous driving player continues to report impressive progress. Waymo, the Google spinoff company, wanted to prove autonomous driving can make a huge difference in traffic safety. Over 1.3 million people are killed every year in car accidents, according to WHO data. Waymo has just published the results of a new study showing how the Waymo Driver, i.e. a robot driver, reacts in real-world crash situations.
This is actually updated research from a report released last fall that revealed the Waymo Driver was involved in only minor collisions over the course of 6 million driven miles on public roads. Heavily modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans were presumably used and the updated test data is very encouraging. Waymo began by gathering data on every fatal crash in Chandler, Arizona between 2008 and 2017.
Why this specific town? Because it's located in the same county as Waymo HQ. The company identified 72 fatal crashes on public roads in its operating area covering thousands of square miles in southeast Phoenix. Some of these crashes involved just one vehicle, though most involved two. For the latter, Waymo ran separate experiments simulating its autonomous vehicle in the role of each vehicle. For one-vehicle crashes, only one simulated the single-vehicle. That left it with 91 total simulations.
These crashes were then reconstructed and aligned with the vehicle's trajectory to make sure it faced a similar situation to that of the deadly crash. This was the same simulation platform used for regular autonomous vehicle testing, and the results are impressive. When placed in the responder role, the Waymo driver avoided 82% of simulated crashes and did so without hard braking or evasive maneuvers.
In 10% of scenarios when the system acted as the responder at an intersection when another vehicle turned across its path, it took action to reduce the severity of the crash. All told, Waymo's autonomous vehicles would have "avoided or mitigated" 88 out of 91 total simulations. For mitigated crashes, the vehicles would have reduced the likelihood of serious injury by a factor of 1.3 to 15 times.
"That means that even if it didn't avoid the crash completely, it took action to reduce the severity of the impact," said Trent Victor, director of Safety Research and Best Practices. "If the severity was reduced, it made it less likely that the driver would have died." By sharing this data, Waymo hopes to "demonstrate the trustworthiness of the technology" it's building. In other words, robots are better and safer drivers than humans.