Auto Tech

Waymo puts humans back in driverless vehicles, report says

The company appears to beef up its safety measures as it hires new executives to handle both safety and commercialization.

Waymo

It was only about a year ago when Waymo announced that it would be running some of its self-driving cars without any humans behind the wheel as backup. Now, according to a new report, it appears the company is dialing back some of its aspirations.

Over the past few weeks, Waymo has allegedly put humans back into its fully driverless vehicles, The Information reports, citing sources familiar with the matter. According to the report, Waymo employees were still present in the vehicle, just not sitting in the driver's seat -- they were either sitting shotgun or riding in the back.

The report also highlights other areas in which Waymo has erred on the safe side as it attempts to launch a commercialized fleet of automated vehicles, which is believed to start before the year's end. Waymo has reportedly added "co-drivers" to sit alongside safety drivers and, hopefully, reduce fatigue from driving solo. It's also reportedly added cameras to the vehicles to monitor drivers' faces for signs of sleepiness.

I don't think too many (or any) users of Waymo's AV service will be bummed if there's a human up front, acting as a failsafe. If anything, it might offer enough peace of mind to get a hesitant person to take a ride.

Waymo

The Information also reports that Waymo is still working through some trickier situations that might result in vehicles "calling home" to a remote operator who will determine the proper course of action. Due to issues with operator availability, situations might result in a several-minute wait inside the vehicle, even if there's a passenger inside.

That said, according to The Information's sources, the frequency of these calls has dropped dramatically, so there's progress. It also cites a reduction in "disengagements," where a human overrides the system.

Waymo did not immediately return a request for comment.

The report comes at the same time that Waymo is visibly making moves to ensure safety is a priority. Earlier on Tuesday, Waymo announced that it has hired Debbie Hersman, the CEO and President of the National Safety Council, as the company's first Chief Safety Officer. At the same time, Waymo also hired a Chief Commercial Officer to oversee everything related to the launch of its commercial service.

Earlier in November, Bloomberg reported that Waymo intends to launch its commercial self-driving service in December, echoing earlier statements from Waymo CEO John Krafcik. And while Waymo is one of the companies that appears to be leading a very eager and determined field, The Information's report reinforced the point that even though one company might be leading the race, the finish line is still a ways off.

Self-driving cars: Check out our one-stop shop for all things AV-related.

Jaguar I-Pace: Take a look at the second vehicle to enter Waymo's fleet.