Your Self-Driving Car Still Isn’t Ready; Smarter Roads Might Change That

  • Date: 03/05/2021

Jaime Waydo spent years building self-driving cars at Waymo, and was quick to praise their abilities. The cars already had the experience of 300 years of average driving experience, she said in a 2017 interview. Waymo's self-driving cars could see 360 degrees, she noted, while humans could see about 120 degrees.

But in a recent interview with CNN Business, Waydo spoke more of the challenges and limits of self-driving cars, like identifying puddles, or seeing clearly when the sun is low on the horizon. She said her years working on self-driving showed her all of the unusual things can happen on the roads, which make it difficult for even advanced artificial intelligence to react appropriately to the myriad new scenarios it might encounter. A Waymo self-driving car once saw a baby crawling on a road, she recalled. (The baby was fine, according to Waydo.)

Waydo, who left her role as lead systems engineer at Waymo in 2018 to work on autonomous systems at Apple, is now joining Cavnue, a startup making digital infrastructure intended to help self-driving cars understand roads, so they can actually drive better than a human.

Roads, signs and traffic lights were designed when governments expected that only humans would drive cars. A bright green light may be the easiest way to tell a human it's safe to drive ahead, but a self-driving car may be better off if the information is messaged to them over a radio or cellular network. As the task of developing and rolling out self-driving cars has started to look slower and more difficult than expected, autonomous driving executives like Waydo are increasingly warming up to the idea of retrofitting infrastructure to get them on roads faster. But critics say the technology is unproven and the costs could be expensive for governments already struggling with the cost of simple road upkeep, like filling potholes.

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