The Fuse

This Week In AVs: Waymo Launches Driverless Public Rides; Real-World Safety Spectrum Uses Detailed; And More

by Alex Adams | @alexjhadams | October 15, 2020

Waymo Launches Public Driverless Rides
Last week, Waymo announced that it was opening up its fully-driverless, ride-hailing services to the public—a milestone at a time when the pandemic has shifted consumer sentiment in favor of limited person-to-person contact. Revealing the details on its company blog, Waymo has stated that it is initially providing rides for participants in the original Waymo One trial, allowing them to take friends and family members with them for journeys. In the coming weeks, the company will welcome more people into the service using its app. “In the near term, 100% of our rides will be fully driverless,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik added in the blog post.

“In the near term, 100% of our rides will be fully driverless.”

Waymo has been testing its vehicles in the Phoenix area since 2017 and the wider deployment of its driverless services comes after an extensive trial that began in 2018. Late that year, the company launched a limited public ride-hailing service called Waymo One, but the only customers to get access were people who had first been vetted through Waymo’s early rider program of beta testers. Waymo said it has around 1,500 monthly active users from both programs, the same number it reported in December 2019.

Safety Spectrum Benefits Highlighted As FCC Nears Decision
A real-world demonstration of the benefits provided by the “Safety Spectrum,” a 75MHz portion of spectrum allocated to transportation connectivity and safety use, was provided in a recent report from The Oklahoman. Interviewing a firefighter whose emergency vehicle can remotely operate traffic lights to ensure speed in case of an emergency, the reported noted this was only possible due to the vehicle-to-infrastructure communication and connectivity provided by the Safety Spectrum. In the case of quickly reaching a fire, the firefighter said, “If we get stuck behind traffic, it can significantly delay us and give that fire time to grow.”

Use of the Safety Spectrum is growing: The U.S. Department of Transportation reported a 50 percent growth over the last three years.

Improvements in technology mean adoption and use of the Safety Spectrum is growing: The U.S. Department of Transportation reported a 50 percent growth over the last three years with 97 locations nationwide actively using it, and another 66 sites in the planning stage. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), however, is considering reallocating a significant portion of this critical spectrum for unlicensed uses such as wi-fi, and could make a decision as early as November 18. In a letter earlier this year, SAFE’s Energy Security Leadership Council co-chairs argued that the FCC’s proposal “threatens to derail the safety and efficiency benefits that the full Safety Spectrum can deliver, thereby disrupting American economic and national security goals.”

Tesla To Launch “Full Self-Driving Beta”
Beginning next week, Tesla announced it will be rolling out its Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta testing on public roads which, according to a tweet from CEO Elon Musk, will be “limited to a small number of people who are expert & careful drivers.” Musk did not elaborate further on the upcoming software update, which is not expected to be released to the broader fleet until December. The launch comes after Tesla rewrote its FSD Autopilot software stack so it would better recognize and label items the vehicle sees on the road.