If car rides worked like movie reviews, Waymo’s fleet of self-driving vehicles has all the makings of a Hollywood-style bomb. That’s according to passenger feedback following rides in Phoenix, Arizona, and those surrounding the tech company’s home-base near San Francisco.
- Waymo is owned by Alphabet, the parent company to Google, and has been conducting research into autonomous vehicles for more than a decade.
- Waymo operates two self-driving ride-share services in Phoenix and was recently approved to start service in California.
- While feedback is starting to trend upward, past reviews of Waymo’s service have been anything but kind.
The colorful quotes and rider feedback were reviewed and reported by the tech-focused online site, The Information [subscription required]. Considering how strongly tech firms work to secure their data – especially highly critical input of a massive undertaking like testing autonomous driving systems – it’s unclear how the site got access to the confidential passenger input.
Tough reviews of Waymo self-drive vehicles show the technology is still very much a work in progress. (Photo: Waymo)
Thanks for the ride, Dad
Apparently, more than 10,500 rides and passenger responses were reviewed. Needless to say, it makes for an entertaining read!
“That ride was s—!,” wrote one particularly unhappy passenger following their Waymo ride. Another compared the trip to being dropped off by their dad. Others complained of awkward routes, jittery driving inputs, and bizarre drop-off points once they reached their destination.
According to SFGate.com, riders in the Bay Area were particularly scathing in their responses, with a complaint rate of about 47 percent. This compares to recent data in the greater Phoenix metro area, where negative responses have ticked downward from a previous high of roughly 40 percent, down to about 30 percent.
What accounts for the difference? Hyper-critical employees, more complicated roads, extra pedestrians, and possibly whether the ride is free or being charged to the rider, might all play roles in the review process.
The rides conducted in and around San Francisco mostly transported employees of Waymo, who were encouraged to be more open – and brutally honest – about the experience. With heavier traffic density, more complex roads, and extra pedestrians to contend with, the Bay Area rides likely threw increasingly complicated driving scenarios at the Waymo vehicles. In all situations, a Waymo safety engineer is behind the wheel, ready to take over if the vehicle needs human intervention.
Waymo is currently running two self-drive programs in the Phoenix area. Waymo One works like a regular ride-share, it charges fees and allows customers to bring passengers along for the ride. (Photo: Waymo)
By the time I get to Phoenix
In Phoenix, Waymo presently operates two ride-share services. A Waymo spokesperson recently confirmed to Ride that the first of the two, the Early Rider Program, currently has “hundreds” of users. This program does not charge any fee and can only be used by direct participants in the program.
This runs concurrently with Waymo One, a ride-share service with approximately 1,000 participants. Waymo One works much like a typical ride-share, in that a ride is hailed using a smartphone app and the “driver-less” vehicle arrives to pick the person up. Unlike the Early Rider Program, Waymo One allows participants to bring passengers along for the ride.
Waymo recently won approval in California to officially operate self-drive ride-shares, though without being able to charge for the rides.
WHY THIS MATTERS
If everything is awesome, then nothing really is. Harsh reviews will ultimately nudge Waymo to improve. At this early stage in its development, brutal honesty and a self-critical approach are essential to autonomous driving research.