Not sure if high schools do this anymore, but when I was taking driver’s ed, we used simulators before actually venturing out on the road.
From the safety of the classroom, we sat behind a steering wheel, fastened our seat belts, and “drove” as a road scene unfolded on a big screen at the front of the room.
The technology was old-school ?(I suspected those simulators dated back to the ’60s), but watching and interacting with those training films helped teach me as a teenager to expect the unexpected while driving: a kid darting out ?into the street while chasing a ball, for instance.
Next came lessons in a real car on a real road, with an instructor at the ready who could hit the brakes if I didn’t. There were also weekend excursions in my mom’s old Ford Maverick, my surprisingly calm stepdad riding shotgun.
It took those experiences, and all kinds of accumulated knowledge, to build a driver: Me. It took two tries, but I managed to pass my road test and get my license.
Building a driver is also the mission at Waymo, says John Krafcik, CEO of the Google self-driving unit.
“We’re not a car company. We’re not a self-driving car company. We’re a technology company that’s building the world’s most experienced driver. That’s what Waymo is,” Krafcik told the audience at a Shift conference in June at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
But developing that driving ace has not been easy, Krafcik admits.
“We’ve been at this for 10 years. Ten years. We have a service up and running, but it’s unbelievably challenging. We’re going to succeed completely. I am sure of this. But I’m telling you it’s hard. It’s harder than you think. But we’re making great progress.”
In this issue of Shift, we examine where the self-driving car movement is heading, and how far it has progressed in the decade since Google began secretly testing a robot-controlled Toyota Prius on the streets of Silicon Valley, using a small team of experts picked largely from the DARPA challenges, a series of autonomous-vehicle races staged by the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
We found that myriad challenges remain, from a shortage of engineers to a need for longer-range sensors. Then there’s the question of how far to safely push the technology: Should humans be relied on to take command when needed — and if so, how? We also get status reports on automated vehicles in the military, trucking and farming sectors.
So keep some enthusiasm in check: The new “drivers” are still quite young, and they have to stay in school awhile. But they’re learning — and fast.