It's the year 2021 and cars still aren't flying en masse, but automakers like Waymo are apparently making progress in the world of autonomous driving technology.
"In October, we launched a service where people can download our Waymo app and hail a fully autonomous ride-hailing service that doesn't have any human operatives in it, and it'll take them where they need to go," David Quinalty, head of federal policy and government affairs at Waymo, recounted for Cheddar.
While the Waymo ride-hailing service is limited to the metro Phoenix area, Quinalty said the company looks to expand that service beyond the state of Arizona.
In addition to ride-hailing, the company also operates an autonomous delivery service that includes partnerships with UPS and Walmart. For Quinalty, the onset of the pandemic highlighted just how beneficial autonomous driving technology can be.
"For Waymo, taking the human driver out of the vehicle holds great promise for making our roads safer, for helping people get to where they need to go more easily, and perhaps also to keep people healthy," he said.
Autonomous Vehicle Expansion Under Biden
With President-elect Biden set to be sworn in next week, Quinalty said he expects the administration to "continue the bipartisan work that the U.S. Department of Transportation has been doing for the last several years on autonomous technology."
As the former policy director for communications and technology in the U.S. Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology, Quinalty said he expects to work with the Biden administration to enact policy that will promote the growing field.
"President-elect Biden has talked about ensuring that the American auto industry 'wins the 21st century,' and there's really no way to do that without fostering the safe and timely deployment of fully autonomous vehicles," he stated.
While some Americans might not welcome the idea of getting into a driverless car, Quinalty said safety, above all else, comes first. After completing 6.1 million autonomous driving miles around the metro Phoenix area, the company reported 18 crashes and 29 near-misses between 2019 and September 2020.
For Quinalty, the ultimate goal, not just for Waymo but for this entire industry, is to perfect the technology so that it can be implemented as part of the everyday lives of Americans. He also said he believes the industry should start adopting practices that are uniform across the board as it becomes more mainstream, starting with dropping the term "self-driving" as a way to be accurate in marketing.
"There's a lot of different types of technology out there when it comes to motor vehicles and consumers need to understand what their vehicle can do. No one wants to be in a situation where they may be overconfident in the capabilities of their vehicle and end up in a situation that jeopardizes their safety or the safety of those around them," Quinalty said.