Self-driving vehicles are “really close” to commercialization and while the obstacles that remain between them and widespread adoption are significant, they will be overcome in the near future, Waymo Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik said on Monday. The head of Alphabet’s autonomous driving unit was still unwilling to provide a more firm availability window for the emerging technology that some industry watchers say will revolutionize society as a whole but is still facing strong regulatory scrutiny and competition, making it unclear which company will emerge as the biggest winner in the initial wave of driverless car adoption.
Mr. Krafcik also didn’t elaborate which industries are planned to be prioritized by Waymo in regards to its commercialization efforts, with the company previously testing everything from ride-hailing services to autonomous trucking operations. The executive did reference both of those segments, in addition to noting that Waymo is presently in the process of experimenting with ride-sharing solutions and “last-mile” initiatives meant to supplement existing transportation methods instead of outright replacing them. While Waymo’s previous comments on the matter suggested that all of those and other industries will eventually be explored by the company in a commercial capacity, no firm roadmap or even a priority list has yet been outlined by the firm in any manner. The latest variants of the experimental Chrysler Pacifica minivans that Waymo is presently working on have been improved in regards to placing a larger focus on the rider experience since the last time they were showcased by the company and now come with a display panel situated on the back of the passenger seat’s headrest. The screens are used to present riders with information about the car’s current whereabouts and elements it senses in its vicinity, in addition to delivering succinct real-time descriptions of actions that the car is performing, with one example being a message saying that it’s “yielding to pedestrians.”
Apart from revamping the rider experience of its vehicles, Waymo is also still in the process of feeding its self-driving algorithms crucial data and making them gather vast amounts of information themselves by driving in challenging weather and difficult traffic conditions. The company’s autonomous car program generally appears to be progressing well but not to the point of anyone at Waymo being confident enough to make firm predictions regarding its commercial availability.