Waymo and Cruise dominated AV testing in California in the first year of the pandemic

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot much less autonomous automobile testing in California in 2020 in comparison with years prior. The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns forced many AVs off the road within the early a part of the yr. However corporations licensed to function AVs on public roads in California nonetheless logged practically 2 million miles of testing, with two of the highest operators, Waymo and Cruise, comprising the majority of these miles because of what some security drivers allege was a lax angle towards security.

Autonomous automobiles registered in California traveled roughly 1.99 million miles in autonomous mode on public roads in 2020, a lower of about 800,000 miles from the earlier yr, in line with the state’s Division of Motor Automobiles. These mileage figures have been reported as a part of the state’s annual “disengagement reports,” which all licensed operators are required to submit. Along with the miles pushed, the reviews listing the frequency at which human security drivers have been compelled to take management of their autonomous automobiles (often known as a “disengagement”).

The disengagement reviews are widely disparaged as being, at finest, meaningless and, at worse, deceptive. Firms have quite a lot of discretion about when to disengage, the testing environments aren’t uniform, and it’s tough to make an apples-to-apples comparability between corporations. Media retailers are likely to overhype the numbers in service of a false “race” narrative wherein sure corporations are outpacing others in miles pushed and disengagements.

However this yr, the reviews can nonetheless function a time capsule of a yr upended by the coronavirus pandemic. Waymo, for instance, typically thought-about to be the main autonomous automobile operator on the planet, solely drove 628,838 miles, a 56-percent lower in comparison with the 1.45 million miles it drove in 2019. That lower is notable contemplating Waymo was recently approved to begin accepting passengers in its automobiles in preparation for the inevitable launch of a robotaxi service in California.

Waymo solely reported 21 disengagements over the course of the yr, or a charge of 0.033 disengagements per 1,000 miles. That’s an enchancment over the corporate’s charge of 0.076 per 1,000 self-driven miles in 2019.

Cruise, an entirely owned subsidiary of Basic Motors and Waymo’s most important rival, can be prepping to launch the same service within the state. And apparently sufficient, its mileage quantity remained kind of the identical final yr as in comparison with 2019. The corporate reported driving 770,049 miles, a 7-percent lower over 2019. It logged 26 disengagements in the course of the yr for a charge of 0.033 per 1,000 miles, enhancing on its 2019 charge of 0.082.

The whole miles pushed by Waymo and Cruise, 1.39 million, is 70 % of the entire autonomous miles pushed in California in 2020. Each corporations briefly grounded their automobiles within the early months of the pandemic, however Cruise was again on the street by late April, using deliveries to local food banks as a pretext. Waymo followed suit, resuming restricted operations in June delivering packages for 2 Bay Space nonprofits. Over the summer time, as COVID-19 circumstances in California have been peaking, each corporations resumed common operations. Solely when the air high quality grew to become very poor in the course of the summer time’s historic wildfires did Waymo and Cruise pull their automobiles from the street — and solely briefly.

This was a worrisome resolution for most of the corporations’ backup drivers. Waymo and Cruise contract the labor of thousands of operational staff within the Bay Space, together with backup drivers, mechanics, cleaners, and fleet managers. Backup drivers, particularly, play an important position: they monitor the driving operations of the self-driving automotive and sometimes take management when one thing goes improper.

Some backup drivers have been glad to be again at work. However others raised issues about being caught in a automobile for hours a day with one other individual with out the flexibility to socially distance. They chafe at being requested to return again to work whereas the salaried staff within the engineering and software program divisions of those corporations get to proceed to do business from home.

Waymo and Cruise each insist that security, together with the security of their contract employees, is a prime concern. However a number of drivers have accused the businesses of exploiting a loophole to get vehicles again on the street in defiance of native public well being orders. Cruise, particularly, was criticized for deploying non-delivery automobiles regardless of public well being orders banning common autonomous automobile testing. Cruise stated the additional automobiles have been wanted for R&D assist for the supply operation.

Waymo and Cruise weren’t alone in racking up large mileage numbers in the course of the pandemic. Pony.ai, a self-driving startup based mostly in Silicon Valley and Guangzhou, China, reported driving 225,496 miles in autonomous mode. And Zoox, an autonomous automobile firm not too long ago acquired by Amazon, drove 102,521 miles.

Apple, which has been working by itself secretive automotive undertaking for years, reported driving 18,805 miles, greater than doubling its mileage in 2019. The tech big additionally reported 130 disengagements, up from 64 the earlier yr.

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