New data on tests of self-driving car technology in California suggest that Alphabet Inc. remains ahead of its rivals in the race to bring to the roads fully autonomous vehicles.
Waymo, the Alphabet unit that began as Google’s self-driving car project eight years ago, logged 635,868 miles (1,023,330km) on California roads between 1 December 2015 and 30 November 2016, according to its annual report to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which oversees self-driving test vehicles.
The number of times the Waymo system deactivated – because the technology failed or a human operator took control of a vehicle because of concerns – fell to 0.2 times per 1,000 miles (1,600km) travelled from 0.8 times a year earlier. That was far better than any of the other 10 companies that filed reports with the state.
California requires annual reports on autonomous cars issued permits to test on public roads. These reports only cover tests on its roads, but the information from the US’ most populous state is still a highly-relevant and telling insight into the current state of play.
Cruise Automation, the San Francisco start-up acquired by General Motors (GM) last year, logged the second highest number of testing miles in California. GM bought the outfit in a bid to accelerate its autonomous-vehicle development. Cruise had 25 vehicles, mostly Chevrolet Bolt electric cars, which covered about 10,000 miles (16,000km) on California roadways in the period.
Nissan Motor Co. increased the number of miles it covered to 4,100 (6,600km) from about 1,400 (2,250km) during the same period a year earlier.
Cruise had a disengagement rate of 18.51 per 1,000 miles (1,600km) last year, while Nissan’s was 6.83.
Dave Sullivan, an analyst for automotive consultancy firm AutoPacific, told the Wall Street Journal that the overall low number of miles tested and the rate of disengagements underscored how much work was still ahead for fully automated driving to become widespread.
“The technology is still not anywhere close to where it’s ready for prime time yet,” he said.
Tesla Inc logged 550 miles (880km) of public testing of its fully-autonomous cars on California roads last year. That testing began in October, the month that Chief Executive, Elon Musk, promised to demonstrate, by the end of 2017, a fully-autonomous car that could travel from Los Angeles to New York. Its vehicles in California had a total of 182 disengagements in October and November. Tesla told regulators in its report that it’s conducting testing in simulations, labs, test tracks and in other parts of the world.
Volkswagen AG, which had been one of the leaders in testing in 2015, didn’t conduct any public tests in California last year, and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz decreased the number of miles it drove to 673 (1,083km) from 1,739 (2,799km) during the same period a year earlier.
Uber Technologies Inc baulked last year at applying for a testing permit for its autonomous car program in a battle that pitted it against state regulators, raising questions about whether the company wanted to avoid disclosing information about its efforts. Uber said it objected because it didn’t think its technology fell under the state regulation requiring a permit. It eventually pulled out of the state, relocating cars to Arizona.