Waze AH

AH Primetime: Waze’s Role In Google’s Autonomous Cars

December 20, 2015 - Written By Daniel Fuller

Waze, a mapping service that played rival to MapQuest and Google Maps for a good while, got its advantage from partnerships with local governments. Mostly in the form of data sharing agreements, these deals allowed Waze to map out areas and analyze traffic in ways many could not. Back in 2013, Google bought up Waze and began using their data and services in conjunction with Google Maps. Although Waze is still its own independent company and app, their data is used regularly to better Google’s services and have so far proven to be a great help in the rolling out, testing and government approval of Google’s self-driving cars. Although the self-driving car space is growing steadily, with more and more competitors popping up over time, it seems like Google will prove to be the quickest to public distribution and the owner of the most mature service. Apple and a few other OEMs have announced plans or started development in the space, but none of them have much hope of catching up to Google at current development rates.

With Waze’s help, Google may be able to extend their lead and keep it. This is mostly due to Waze’s government ties making the road to approval and public testing an easier and shorter one for Google. Waze denies that their government agreements are helping Google directly at this time, but the stage is set and the writing is on the wall. Testing has already gone live to a limited extent in California and slightly more so in the more tolerant territory of Texas, but public sale and widespread testing still seems like a far-off dream. Between regulatory snafus, trouble with precipitation and arguments that the self-driving cars’ perfect driving doesn’t mesh well with humans on the road, Google’s cars have a long road to full approval and a public rollout.

A major player in the space, Uber, is attempting to ready themselves to roll out an automatic cab service. Users would fire up an app, order a cab and be greeted by a manned or unmanned vehicle shortly after. Before this can become a reality, there’s a lot that governments, cities and the tech companies will need to do. Rezonings, new laws, extensive testing and the creation of dedicated lanes seem to be the most obvious moves in the right direction, but all such initiatives are only in their infancy at the moment. Google has plans to create such a service themselves in the near future, so rolling out before the widely popular Uber would be paramount to getting Google’s service a user base before competition starts popping up left and right. Waze’s government ties may be a big help in this, as deals are already in the works. Waze’s programs and deals cover many different fronts, including passing info reported by users, such as accidents and traffic jams, to governments at no charge in the Connected Citizens program. This program is active in 51 cities worldwide at this time, but more participants will likely come as the program proves itself. Some cities, such as Boston, use Waze’s data to analyze the implications of possible changes to traffic flow and construction.

Uber is scrambling to keep up, though it has historically had a tougher time with governments. In Tel Aviv, Waze has already rolled out a trial service that allows users to pick up ride requesters who happen to already be on their commute route. Google voiced pleasure with this trial, though no calls to expand it have been made at this time. The various players in this field are not without their errors, mainly in the friction between automation and human operation, but officials in California have predicted that these innovations can only get better with time. Some drivers have made their frustrations with the various apps known, as commuters who have little area knowledge and blindly follow the app can cause traffic issues. As the various solutions mature and human-operated transit begins to fall by the wayside, these issues should improve.