Waymo self-driving car prototypeEnlarge Photo
Alphabet Inc.'s self-driving car subsidiary, Waymo, has made a conscious decision to skip partial self-driving technology. Why? The company found its test drivers napping behind the wheel, which meant they'd be unable to resume control of the car if needed. Clearly, this speaks volumes as to how the general public could react to commercialized partial self-driving technology.
Now it's full speed ahead for fully self-driving cars. Waymo CEO John Krafcik told Reuters it abandoned semi-self-driving capability after viewing video of test drivers completely asleep in prototype cars. Krafcik called it "scary." However, it likely made the decision to pursue cars that car fully drive themselves that much easier. Rather than develop technology that still requires human input, Waymo's future technology will make it A-OK to sleep behind the wheel when a car is completely capable of driving itself.
Today's self-driving car technology remains at Level 2 on the self-driving car scale. The scale climbs to Level 5, which is complete autonomy, but today's Level 2 systems, as well as forthcoming Level 3 systems, still require drivers to pay attention at all times in case the system requires drivers to retake control. Notably, Cadillac's Super Cruise system tracks drivers' eye movement. If it detects the driver hasn't made eye contact with the road after four or five seconds, it flashes warnings and quickly hands control back over to the driver. General Motors makes it very difficult to do anything other than pay attention to the road when a driver engages the system.
We don't know who will take the lead in the self-driving car race, but we know companies won't tolerate sleeping behind the wheel—at least for now.