You may have heard the slosh of a collective eye roll last week from the Trough of Disillusionment crowd when Waymo said it had found that its system could have prevented the vast majority of traffic fatalities that occurred over the past decade in Chandler, Ariz., where it has been testing its robot-driven Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
Was Waymo's analysis and its subsequent release self-serving? Sure, it was.
But it also serves the greater good in a couple of important ways.
It shows what can — and can't yet — be done with automated driving, and it puts the technology's focus rightly on its lifesaving potential.
But first, let's look at Waymo's analysis. Working with Arizona's Department of Transportation and an independent third party, Waymo built mathematical models of 72 fatal crashes and ran simulations in which Waymo's computer "driver" substituted for the vehicle that instigated the accident or others that had to respond.
To some extent, the game is tilted in Waymo's favor. Assuming, as Waymo did, that the automated systems never malfunction, it's designed to avoid a lot of human errors: Automated systems don't get sleepy or angry or impatient or distracted or intoxicated. So right off the top, 52 of the scenarios went from tragic to uneventful.