When his self-driving taxi stopped in the middle of a busy road on the outskirts of Phoenix, Joel Johnson laughed nervously from the back seat.The car is made by Self-driving car pioneer Wimo, Encountered a row of traffic cones in the construction area and did not move. “Come on, buddy,” Johnson said, pointing at the drivers honking their horns behind him.

After the vehicle was stuck in traffic for 14 minutes, almost motionless, a Waymo technician tried to get closer—but the car unexpectedly rolled forward and moved away from him. “This looks absolutely a dangerous situation,” Johnson recall.

Events like this, Johnson Post Visiting his YouTube channel in May embarrassed Waymo-the company encountered its own problems as it moved forward.one unit Alphabet companyAfter years of careful testing, Waymo has not yet expanded its robotic taxi service beyond Phoenix. The company has begun to set foot in other areas- Truck transportation, Logistics, private cars-but these businesses are still in the early stages. Its production process of adding cars to the driverless fleet has been very slow.

This spring, Waymo witnessed the loss of a large number of top talents. These include its chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and head of trucking products, manufacturing, and automotive partnerships. People familiar with the departures said that some executives are frustrated by the slow progress of the company.

Despite years of research and billions of dollars in investment, the technology behind self-driving cars still has flaws. Not long ago, the glorious future of Waymo and its many competitors’ self-driving cars seemed close at hand. Now, “people are realizing that the future of work is really difficult,” said former employee and transportation consultant Tim Papandreou (Tim Papandreou).

leader

By most standards, Waymo is still the world leader in the field of autonomous vehicles. The development of its technology started at Google more than ten years ago. The company launched a fully driverless taxi program in Arizona last year, reaching a historic milestone. During the pandemic, many competitors gave up autonomous driving (Uber Technologies Inc.) or sell itself to a competitor (Zoox, acquired by Amazon.com Inc.). Waymo continues to move forward, raising $5.7 billion from outside investors since last summer, adding to the billions of billions that Alphabet has already spent.

Waymo points to its outstanding record compared to its competitors. The company said it has provided “tens of thousands” of unattended ride-hailing services in Arizona since last fall. “We think this is a huge achievement,” a Waymo spokesperson said in a statement. “In fact, no other such fully autonomous commercial product proves how difficult it is to achieve this feat.”

Small disturbances, such as construction workers, cyclists, Turn left, pedestrians still have a headache. Each city brings new and unique challenges. Currently, no company’s driverless car can handle rain, sleet or snow gracefully.

But the company’s remaining competitors have also begun to reach milestones. Argo AI, by Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen AG, will start as robot Cycling in Miami and Austin later this year-despite being supervised. Zoox and Cruise, by General Motors, HondaAnd SoftBank has begun testing self-driving cars on public roads in California. Although these companies have not yet achieved profitability in autonomous driving technology, they are investing billions of dollars to eliminate Waymo’s early leadership.

Waymo separated from Google’s research laboratory in 2016 and became Alphabet’s newest subsidiary, and continued to recruit aggressively. Recruiters reached business agreements with automakers, drafted financial models, lobbyed government agencies, and promoted its technology. At the time, many Waymonauts (employees claiming to be) thought that the machine was fully in place. self-driving car The imminent public road.

In 2017, Waymo launched a self-driving ride-hailing service with a backup human driver in Phoenix. An employee of the company was told that its robot fleet would be expanded to nine cities within 18 months. Staff often discuss that the “99% of the problems” of driverless cars have been solved. “We all thought it was ready,” said another former Waymonaut. “We just flip a switch and turn it on.”

But it turns out that in the end 1% Has always been a killer. Small disturbances like the construction team, Cyclist, Turning left and pedestrians are still headaches for computer drivers. Each city brings new and unique challenges. Currently, no company’s driverless car can handle rain, sleet or snow gracefully. Until the last few details are resolved, widespread commercialization of fully self-driving cars is almost impossible.

“We landed on the moon, how is it now?” said Mike Ramsey, a Detroit-based Gartner analyst and long-time industry spectator. “We planted a flag in it and grabbed some rocks, but what should we do now? We can do nothing about this moon.”

Need some assembly

At first, Waymo seemed to produce cars at super fast speeds. In 2018, Waymo signed a contract to transfer 20,000 Jaguar Buggy Enter the Waymo self-driving car.A few months later, it said it would expand its Chrysler Pacifica fleet small truck More than 60,000. Waymo plans to buy cars and install what it calls “drivers” — A set of cameras, sensors and proprietary computer equipment.

“There is not much assembly work,” said John Krafcik, a former automotive executive and then CEO. Announce In an event that year.

In fact, skilled disassembly is required. The engineer must disassemble the car and then reassemble them by hand. According to a person familiar with the operation, a misplaced wire may confuse the engineer for days as to where the problem is. He described the system as cumbersome and prone to quality problems. Like others who talked frankly about the company, the former employee asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.

Requires skilled disassembly. Waymo engineers must disassemble the cars and then reassemble them by hand. Argo and Cruise plan to build their driverless cars from the ground up.

The person familiar with the matter said that the hardship of this process made Waymo no viable mass production method. Waymo cuts Chrysler parts orders small truck Projects and already much less Jaguar Delivery ratio Initially expectedAccording to a person familiar with the automaker’s plan.

A Waymo spokesperson said that the company’s supply in Detroit is not limited and that Jaguar is expected to achieve all its internal production goals, but declined to give details. The company also argued that its construction progress is behind schedule. Chrysler Vehicles, and pointed out that these agreements are “mobile and subject to change.”

Waymo’s competitors in Detroit already have strong manufacturing capabilities. For example, Argo and Cruise plan to build driverless cars from the ground up. Gartner analyst Ramsey said that the industry generally believes that Waymo is a leader in the technology field, but in terms of launching a fleet, manufacturing capabilities may give Detroit an advantage. “I don’t know what their current quantity is,” he said of Waymo’s production. “But it hasn’t changed much.”

In 2019, Waymo rented a warehouse in Detroit, as Krafcik said at the time, “the world’s first dedicated autonomous factory.” Michigan officials agreed to provide the company with a $8 million grant in exchange for the creation of at least 100 jobs in the state. According to reports, as of last fall, Waymo has hired 22 employees to work in the factory. State filing. The company said it has exceeded the state’s commitment to create 100 jobs and will not comment on the number of people in specific offices.

A former employee said that earlier this year, Waymo tried to produce 5 to 10 cars a day at the factory. The company disputed this statement.

Top change

After years of publicly touting the miracle of autonomous driving, Waymo personnel in recent years have begun to talk about managing people’s expectations of what their cars can do and when. Several people who work at Waymo described the parent company Alphabet as being very cautious, especially after Uber’s self-driving test vehicle crashed and killed a pedestrian in Arizona in 2018.

For example, according to three people familiar with the matter, Waymo’s interim board rejected the high-profile marketing campaign from Krafcik. In 2018, he wanted to conduct a multi-city demonstration of the company’s technology and demonstrate Waymo’s capabilities through a pop-up marketing device. Tesla Inc. has already performed similar operations on its earlier models. But the company’s board of directors-composed of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, as well as Alphabet executives and some outside investors-worried about repeating the failure of Google Glass, the failed augmented reality glasses, in the product Get ready to launch the product before. A spokesperson for Waymo said that the company is just moving in a different direction.

Krafcik left the company in April. The new co-CEOs are Tekedra Mawakana, former Chief Operating Officer of Waymo, and Dmitri Dolgov, formerly its Chief Technology Officer. This spring, Waymo closed a funding round, and the couple met with supporters and partners. According to one investor, the new head expressed optimism at a recent meeting, saying that as the pandemic subsides, the company is preparing to make “great progress” on its goals.

At the same time, in Phoenix, YouTuber Joel Johnson is still passionate about this technology even after the traffic cone incident. “It seems to be able to handle almost everything I try and put in,” he said. In other words, it works 99% of the time.



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