The future of mobility was heralded during the Consumer Technology Association’s annual Leaders in Technology (LIT) dinner at CES on Wednesday night, with Waymo CEO John Krafcik sharing the promise of a better, safer future with automated vehicles.
The leader of the self-driving car company was interviewed by Fox Business Network Anchor Liz Claman in a fireside chat that explored both the potential and the limitations of autonomous technology. Waymo is a not a car company, Krafcik noted, but rather a driver company.
“We’re not building cars,” he emphasized. “We’re building drivers.” And as a driver company, Waymo’s mission includes developing the world’s most experienced driver that can drive anything safely. The company is currently piloting a program in which riders can hail Waymo cars as they would a traditional ride-sharing vehicle, using the self-driving car to commute and run errands. It’s also expected to particularly fulfill an important need for people with accessibility challenges, and the company is experimenting with ways to better do so, including installing Braille buttons in the cars and providing enlarged typeface options in its app.
Ninety-four percent of accidents happen because of human error, and there are 1.35 million lives lost on the roads each year, Krafcik said, which he likened to the equivalent of a 737 jet crashing every hour, every day. While self-driving cars have their limitations, the technology can improve those statistics.
Claman grilled Krafcik on some of the safety capabilities of Waymo vehicles. Can the cars detect construction signs? Yes. Construction workers? Yes. Squirrels? Those too. They can detect sirens in order to move over for emergency vehicles, and they adjust navigation techniques during inclement weather.
Interestingly, one of the biggest unanticipated challenges for self-driving cars that Waymo discovered was parking lots, Krafcik said. “There aren’t as many rules.”
While it’s still TBD as to whether consumers will someday be able to purchase a Waymo car, Krafcik said he would like to see a Waymo driver installed in every car so consumers would have the option of using the self-driving tech.