MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Earlier this month, Waymo CEO John Krafcik stood on a Mountain View street corner, opened an app on his phone and ordered a ride. The simple act felt like a major milestone.
Standing alongside him were John Zimmer and Logan Green, the co-founders of ride-hailing service Lyft. Together, the three executives ordered a Waymo self-driving vehicle through the Lyft app, a capability that will roll out to customers in Phoenix by the end of June.
Nearly four years into his tenure at Waymo, it’s hard to imagine Krafcik, former chief engineer at Ford and CEO at Hyundai Motor America, fazed by the opening of an app. On the contrary, it was a defining moment.
“It sort of felt like an epic day for me,” Krafcik told Automotive News.
It’s among the first fruits of a partnership between the two companies — and one that brings Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans to customers beyond its Waymo One rider program. Ten of the Pacificas will be deployed on the Lyft network in the Phoenix trial.
Krafcik discusses the ongoing Lyft partnership, Waymo’s renewed foray into trucking and new developments on its fifth-generation self-driving system on this week’s episode of the Shift podcast.
On the Lyft partnership, he said, “It demonstrates our own flexibility for us to be enablers and not disrupters. We want to drive. That’s our role in the world. The Waymo driver wants to drive all things, and with a company like Lyft, we give them something they need.”
That driver is growing more sophisticated. On the fifth-generation system that’s being installed on the Jaguar I-Pace vehicles that are joining the company’s fleet, he said there are major upgrades throughout the system’s sensor suite.
There are 19 cameras on today’s systems, and “you’ll see even more on the I-Pace,” Krafcik said. “These help us with edge cases and long-tail distribution issues that we’ve come across and give us much more capability.”
Advances come in the radar and lidar sensors. In the past, Waymo has boasted of trimming 90 percent of lidar costs while increasing capability, and Krafcik says the next generation furthers both those efforts.
New capabilities include the means to operate in all weather conditions. Far from its Mountain View headquarters, the company tested its latest sensors in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula throughout the winter.
Advances in Waymo’s artificial intelligence also help improve its skill in harsh conditions.
“We’re doing quite well with finding filtering agents that allow us to see the world as if there’s no snow there,” Krafcik said. “Wipers, defrost, some surface chemistry … you’ll see us pulling from a lot of different bags of tricks."