TechCrunch goes for a ride in a fully autonomous Waymo Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid with absolutely no driver, and it's pretty amazing.
We apologize in advance for the robot voice in the video. It's almost comical if you can tolerate it.
Of course, this can't yet happen on real public roads with the general public. Even though Waymo's vehicles are at Level 4 autonomy, there still has to be a person in the driver's seat just in case something goes awry. However, Waymo has its own closed testing area complete with other vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, intersections, and even emergency vehicles. The company is also testing on public roads in Chandler, Arizona, without a driver. However, current passengers are all Waymo employees.
The next step, which isn't far off (in the next few months per CEO John Krafcik), will be the industry's first driverless ride hailing service. Any yes, it will transport the general public.
Waymo's self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Journalist Darrell Etherington sat in the second row of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan and let the car be in control. He said it tackled a pretty long route with no issues. Etherington's not a stranger to self-driving vehicle demos but this was different. He shares:
"I’ve done a lot of self-driving vehicle demos, including in Waymo’s own previous-generation Lexus test vehicles, so I wasn’t apprehensive about being ferried around in Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivan to begin with. But the experience still took me by surprise, in terms of just how freeing it was once it became apparent that the car was handling s*** all on its own, and would continue to do so safely regardless of what else was going on around it."
He says that even though the test track is not a truly real-world scenario, and can be tailored by Waymo to be somewhat consistent, it's still quite impressive. The track includes stop lights and a roundabout, people crossing into traffic, etc. He just happened to have a squirrel dart out in front of the Pacifica Hybrid during his test drive (this was not an animatronic squirrel, nor was it anything put in place by Waymo). The Pacifica noticed it and slowed in an attempt to avoid it if needed.
While you're partaking in Waymo's Pacifica Hybrid test drive, you get to watch displays that show you what the vehicle's sensors are "seeing", as shown in the video below. This one is also taking place on public roads:
Needless to say, Etherington was honestly impressed with the experience. He was surprised by how comfortable the "driver" made him feel. He concluded:
"I also noticed that the Pacifica drove in a manner which itself made me feel more comfortable as a rider, essentially by making it familiar. It edged into intersections cautiously, moved forward slowly when it had the right of way but its path was obstructed by a pedestrian crossing the street and did a number of other things that made its driving feel more “human” than you might expect from an exacting computer system."
Check out another video of the Waymo Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid below:
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