Waymo, the driverless car unit of Google-owner Alphabet, is pulling ahead of its competitors says a recent Financial Times report. The company has significantly widened the gap with the other big tech and auto-manufacturers desperate for a slice of a market estimated at being worth anywhere between $800 billion and $3 trillion globally by 2030.
China’s tech giants such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are expected to dominate what is tipped to be the biggest market for the new technology. In the West, Waymo, Uber and General Motors unit Cruise Automation have been setting the pace. But over the past several months Waymo have pulled significantly ahead and now look to have a commanding lead in pole position.
Key to establishing a market position in autonomous vehicles technology will be companies securing regulatory approval for their own driverless technology. And doing so will mean being able to demonstrate safety through testing. Waymo has covered far more test miles than its competitors, both on real roads and in a virtual environment. But more importantly, data released by California, where the majority of testing is carried out, shows that Waymo’s driverless system has made huge leaps forward in its reliability.
Over the course of driverless technology tests throughout 2018, Waymo vehicles only required the intervention of their human safety drivers at an average rate of once every 11, 018 miles. That’s more than double their record the previous year. Cruise Automation had the next best record. However, it was a long way off Waymo’s with safety driver intervention required every 5205 miles. That’s more than twice as often as Waymo’s technology but still huge improvement on 2017’s requirement for a human intervention every 1236 miles.
Uber’s vehicles recorded human driver intervention 2.86 times for every mile driven. The ride hailing app company was forced to suspend its testing last year after a fatal accident involving one of its vehicles. Despite the fact that the accident was caused by a pedestrian crossing the road at an unsafe point in poor visibility conditions the incident generated large volumes of negative press for the revolutionary technology. Uber also commented on the comparatively poor record of its testing by explaining that its drivers are trained to “err on the side of caution” during test drives.
It is not yet clear whether Waymo’s market strategy will be to manufacture its own autonomous vehicles or favour a model similar to that of the Android smartphone operating system and license a driverless OS to auto-manufacturers.