Google’s sister firm Waymo is about to begin its first commercial self driving car service.
The service will be offered in Phoenix, Ariz., where the company has already been offering limited rides as part of a test program, according to The Information.
It is believed the service will operate without a human driver for backup, although some vehicles could have drivers for longer trips, or places Waymo has yet to map.
100 of the self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans are being added to Waymo’s fleet
Alphabet executives Larry Page and Sergey Brin have allegedly been aggressive about autonomous ridehailing, according to the report, and wanted to launch a service as far back as last year.
Waymo engineers are said to have talked management into accepting a ‘mixed’ fleet instead.
They have also been tested at Google’s own test track in California, and FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, MI and their Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, AZ
Earlier this year it was revealed how much Google has spent on developing self-driving cars: at least $1.1 billion.
The number – kept secret until now – emerged after Google failed to redact it from a deposition given for the case against Uber by Shawn Bananzadeh, a financial analyst at the firm’s autonomous sister company Waymo.
The autonomous investment rings close to that by GE, who’s poured $1 billion into Cruise Automation.
According to IEEE Specrtum, every number Bananzadeh gave during the deposition was redacted to protect Waymo’s confidential commercial information, except for the most important one – the grand total.
‘The calculation that was the basis of the $1.1 billion cost estimate for Trade Secret 90 is the same calculation that was done for Trade Secret 2 and Trade Secret 25?’ one of Uber’s lawyers asked.
Bananzadeh replied: ‘My understanding is that it is a cost that captures the entire program spend from inception to the period of time where it stops.’
While he said that represents the total amount, it remains unclear if that also includes salaries and incentives in addition to research and development.
$1.1 seems like a large investment, but it’s not shocking considering what the firm is trying to accomplish.
Others have been known to spend more.
Anthony Levandowski, head of Uber’s self-driving program, speaks about their driverless cars. Earlier this year Waymo sued Uber and its autonomous trucking subsidiary Otto, claiming over 14,000 documents relating to its self driving car sensors were stolen by Levandowski
WHAT IS LIDAR?
In lidar — or light detection and ranging — scanning, one or more lasers sends out short pulses, which bounce back when they hit an obstacle, whether clouds, leaves or rocks.
In self driving cars, the sensors constantly scan the surrounding areas looking for information and acting as the ‘eyes’ of the car.
Intel, for example, paid $15 billion for Mobileye, an Israeli-based company developing vision-based advanced driver-assistance technology.
While Google has been trying to keep this number under wraps, it’s no surprise the firm failed to redact it, considering how many legal briefs are being filed for the lawsuit, which is set to go to trial in a few months.
Earlier this year Waymo sued Uber and its autonomous trucking subsidiary Otto, claiming over 14,000 documents relating to its self driving car sensors were stolen by a former executive.
‘Competition should be fueled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions,’ Waymo told Dailymail.com.
‘Given the strong evidence we have, we are asking the court step in to protect intellectual property developed by our engineers over thousands of hours and to prevent any use of that stolen IP.’
Waymo is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and a court order preventing Uber from using its proprietary information – bringing its self driving project to a halt
The court documents state: ‘Waymo further requests that Defendants be enjoined from making, using, selling, or offering to sell devices that infringe claims 1 or 13 of United States Patent No. 8,836,922 and claims 1 or 14 of U.S. Patent 9,285,464.’
‘Because Waymo’s remedy at law is inadequate, Waymo seeks, in addition to damages, temporary, preliminary, and permanent injunctive relief to recover and protect its confidential, proprietary, and trade secret information and to protect other legitimate business interests.’
Waymo has accused Uber and Otto, acquired by the ride services company in August, with stealing confidential information on Waymo’s Lidar sensor technology to help speed its own efforts in autonomous technology.
Experts say a win for Waymo could be ‘devastating’ for Uber.
GOOGLE’S CARS BECOME WAYMO
Google turned its self-driving car division into a new company called Waymo, in December 2016.
And it revealed the vehicles it will use – specially developed Crysler minivans. The hybrid vehicles are expected to form part of Google’s ridesharing service, and are already being tested in California.
As we get fully self-driving cars ready for the road, we’ll need more types of vehicles to refine and test our advanced driving software,’ Waymo CEO Jon Krafcik wrote.
‘That’s why in May we teamed up with FCA to work on adding 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Waymo’s fleet.
But prior to the shift, a top executive at partner Alphabet Inc highlighted how costly the original program was. Google change to Waymo in December
‘With this great new minivan on the road in our test markets, we’ll learn how people of all ages, shapes, and group sizes experience our fully self-driving technology.’
The team has spent six months on the joint program.
Using several of our early prototype minivans, we’ve already run a gamut of tests, including over 200 hours of extreme-weather testing,’ Krafcik said.
‘Before starting production in October, we’d put these early vehicles through their paces at our own test track in California, and FCA’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, MI and their Arizona Proving Grounds in Yucca, AZ.
We’re looking forward to having these new vehicles on public roads in 2017.’ To underscore his point, Krafcik revealed the project had hit a key milestone in the journey to having fully autonomous cars cruising around public roads.
In a trip taken in October 2015 , a pod-like car with no steering wheel and brake pads drove a legally blind passenger around neighborhoods in Austin, Texas without another human in the vehicle.
It marked the first time one of the project’s cars had given a passenger a ride without a human on hand to take control of a self-driving car if something went wrong.
‘If Waymo prevails after a long suit and a sequence of appeals, the nature of the compensation and fines could be staggering,’ Raj Rajkumar, professor of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, told The Verge.
‘If Waymo can show that Uber knew that Otto [would] have Waymo’s LIDAR designs, I don’t see how Uber can attract additional large institutional investors.’
The original 28-page complaint accuses Anthony Levandowski, a former top manager for Google’s self-driving car project, of stealing pivotal technology now propelling Uber’s effort to assemble a fleet of autonomous vehicles for its ride-hailing service.
The sensors act as the cars ‘eyes’, allowing it to constantly scan its surroundings.
HOW OTTO DRIVES
Otto is aiming to equip trucks with software, sensors, lasers and cameras so they eventually will be able to navigate the more than 220,000 miles of US highways on their own, while a human driver naps in the back of the cab or handles other tasks.
For now, the robot truckers would only take control on the highways, leaving humans to handle the tougher task of wending through city streets.
The technology fitted in Otto’s trucks uses Lidar sensors on top of the cab to read the road ahead, with the data fed back to a computer to analyse the data and make adjustments to speed and steering.
The alleged chicanery occurred in late 2015, before Levandowski left to found a startup called Otto that is building big-rig trucks that navigate highways without a human behind the wheel.
Waymo has since filed additional documents, including testimony from Pierre-Yves Droz, a principle hardware engineer at Google who previously co-founded a company called 510 Systems with Levandowski.
Droz testifies that on January 5th, 2016, he and Levandowski were walking around Google’s Mountain View-based campus, talking about the future.
‘During this walk, he told me specifically that he wanted his new company to have a long-range LiDAR, which is very useful for self-driving truck applications he was interested in,’ Droz says.
‘He also told me that he planned to ‘replicate’ this Waymo technology at his new company.’
Otto launched with much fanfare in May, due in part to the high profile of one of its co-founders, Levandowski, who had been an executive on Google’s self-driving project. Uber acquired the company in August for what Waymo said in the lawsuit was $680 million
Otto launched with much fanfare in May, due in part to the high profile of one of its co-founders, Anthony Levandowski, who had been an executive on Google’s self-driving project.
Uber bought Otto for $680 million last year, and Levandowski is now overseeing Uber’s effort to develop and dispatch cars driven by robots.
Waymo is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and a court order preventing Uber from using its proprietary information.
Uber says the lawsuit is a ‘baseless attempt to slow down a competitor.’
‘We are incredibly proud of the progress that our team has made,’ an Uber spokesperson said in a statement.
‘We have reviewed Waymo’s claims and determined them to be a baseless attempt to slow down a competitor and we look forward to vigorously defending against them in court.
‘In the meantime, we will continue our hard work to bring self-driving benefits to the world.’