Why Waymo Should Do Way Mo’ Before Testing on Human Guinea Pigs with Free Rides

Waymo, must publicly release key information about its robot cars’ driving records in Arizona before it turns the vehicles loose on Phoenix streets and uses passengers as human guinea pigs, Consumer Watchdog said today.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group added that the most recent information required to be filed with the California Department of Motor Vehicles shows Waymo’s cars aren’t ready to be deployed without drivers.

“The most recent required public ‘disengagement reports’ in California show Waymo’s robot cars aren’t ready to roam the roads without a human driver monitoring them,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “There is no such public information in Arizona. CEO John Krafcik is simply asking us to trust him as he uses public roads as a private laboratory. That’s simply not good enough.”

Krafcik told the Web Summit meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, today that Waymo, which started business operating under Google’s name, will start deploying robot cars in the Phoenix area without test drivers and will offer rides initially for free.

Waymo’s most recent California disengagement reports released earlier this year show that its robot cars aren’t ready to be turned loose on our highway, Consumer Watchdog said. The required reports show Google’s Waymo robot technology failed 124 times in 635,868 miles. Waymo said disengagements declined from 341 in 2015 to 124 in 2016, or 0.8 per 1,000 miles compared to 0.2 per 1,000 miles. While there has been an improvement, the reports show the robots simply aren’t ready to be released to roam our roads without human drivers, Consumer Watchdog said.

“Putting robot cars on public roads without any kind of driver’s license amounts to giving the manufacturer a license to kill,” said Simpson.

Consumer Watchdog expressed concern that Waymo is following Silicon Valley’s tradition of releasing software in “beta” or test mode and then tweaking it while it’s being used. “That’s one thing, when you’re talking about Gmail and maybe losing an email or two,” said Simpson. “It’s the wrong approach when you’re dealing with self-driving cars. When things go wrong with a robot car, you kill people.”

Consumer Watchdog said that autonomous vehicles raise a host of safety, ethical and other public policy issues, which Waymo has not adequately addressed.

“The public has right to know what programming decisions have been made in the robot car’s software, for instance, who gets priority in a crash? Is it the passengers or a pedestrian?” said Simpson. “How often does the robot technology fail? How many jobs will it steal? The public deserves answers. ‘Trust us, we’re Google’s Waymo,’ simply doesn’t suffice.”