Howdy👋🏾, while my mom, and probably most moms, would disapprove, it finally happened! (👵🏽 Ma, I know that grandma emoji looks nothing like you) For months, I’ve hoped for a chance to sit in the backseat of a self-driving vehicle and have it whisk me away to my destination, and last weekend, it finally happened. While I was in Phoneix for Chartwell’s EMACS utility conference, I summoned a Waymo autonomous vehicle to take me and my friends to and from lunch, and it did it almost flawlessly [📹 my experience].
In the US, many companies compete in the self-driving space, but GM’s Cruise and Alphabet (Google’s parent company) Waymo are the two biggies. I was lucky enough to get approved on both wait lists, but Cruise only approved me for rides in San Francisco, while Waymo’s covered parts of San Francisco and Phoenix. I say parts because the maps are restricted to specific areas of the city, and from what I can tell, Waymo vehicles stick to the streets and avoid the interstate.
To summon a Waymo vehicle, you must use the Waymo One app, which requires you to set up a valid payment method and input your pickup and destination addresses within the designated service area. My party started at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel near the Phoenix Airport, and we made a roundtrip to the Cocina Madrigal restaurant for delicious enchiladas and tacos.
As we waited, I worried about how the car would pull into the hotel’s drop-off area and navigate people, cars, and the parked hotel shuttles. The Waymo app provided an estimated arrival time (ETA) and the car pulled up to the hotel’s driveway, coming to a halt a few feet away from my group who stood by the hotel entrance. We walked closer, the app buzzed, and using it, I unlocked the doors and buckled up for a much-anticipated ride. It asked if I was Jason and said to tap the button on the touch screen (conveniently easily accessible from the front and back seats) to start, and almost immediately, the car pulled through the hotel arch and turned onto the street.
Apple and Google Maps suggested the ride should take us ~12 minutes, but Waymo insisted it was a 22-minute drive. Ultimately, we used every single one of those minutes to complete our journey because the vehicle adhered strictly to the posted speed limit throughout the roundtrip. Meanwhile, we observed other vehicles whizzing past us, exceeding the speed limit by 5-15 miles per hour. The car crept along and diligently adhered to all regulations, which was fine for an inaugural ride. However, in practical terms, it could get old quickly. Nonetheless, the drive itself was flawless. It made left turns, crossed major traffic intersections, stopped at every light, and slowed down to keep pace with cars in front of it. At one point, a car abruptly moved into our lane, and the car instinctively switched into the right lane and avoided an accident (insert gasp).
Each Waymo vehicle appears to be a modified version of the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE, and the interior of both cars looks clean. Video cameras were noticeable all over the cabin, and the car’s steering wheel had a large label asking us not to touch or grab it. The center dashboard and area between the backseat passengers featured a generous, well-lit screen where you could play music and select from a preselected list of playlists. It also provided real-time information on our estimated arrival time and offered a specific option for seeking assistance or support. Although we didn’t need it, you also had the option to manually adjust the temperature controls from the front.
When we arrived at our destination, it pulled into the restaurant parking lot entrance on E Wood St, dropped us off, and knew enough to navigate the lot and leave from an exit on the opposite side of the building crossing S 16th St to continue on its ride. It was indeed impressive 😱.
While at Cocina Madrigal, we scarfed down some delicious Mexican. I had the mixed enchiladas plate and sipped a delightful margarita before we walked out to “hail” our return ride. We encountered a minor hiccup while waiting for our Waymo vehicle to arrive. The car seemed confused about our location, possibly because I opted for it to detect my address instead of manually inputting it. The vehicle drove past us while we tried to flag it down, continuing for several blocks without responding to our attempts to get its attention. Unlike Uber or Lyft, we didn’t have the option to call the driver and clarify our location. Eventually, we had to cancel the ride and wait for a new pickup that was 10 minutes away. A new Waymo arrived, and within minutes I forgot about the mix-up and was once again in awe as it whisked us back to our destination and safely dropped us off. Sadly, just like that, I was back to reality in an Uber ride to the airport, but at least I have my thoughts on tech & things:
⚡️The deep fakes are heating up when Tom Hanks is forced to release a PSA that someone has generated an ad that looks and sounds like him.
⚡️Google’s antitrust trial has shared many unexpected tidbits about Microsoft, Apple, and other companies and how they view the search engine market. Microsoft CEO Nadella said pretty outright that you can’t beat a default (who thought Microsoft would ever say that) and that they would do almost anything to win Apple’s default search contract.
⚡️While I decided to sit in the back seat of a self-driving car, they managed to shake humans’ belief that these things are safe. The most recent was a Cruise vehicle accident that began with another car. What would a human have done differently? Or cases where cars recreate the Spider-Man pointing meme in Austin. Some legitimate issues exist, but the numbers say self-driving cars are safer than humans.
For those curious, my Tesla Model 3 is equipped with autosteer, not the full autonomous autopilot. Yet, even as someone familiar with a car that can partially manage itself, I found that the Waymo vehicle exhibited a higher level of refinement in handling certain situations my Tesla sometimes struggles with. For instance, when encountering a left-turn lane with poorly marked pavement, my car often becomes uncertain. The Waymo vehicle did great here.
It’s also important to note that Waymo operates within a controlled test environment, while Tesla’s system is designed to navigate anywhere. Observing how both systems perform in less familiar terrain would be great.
Also, speaking of Phoniex, while at Chartwell’s EMACS, I had the chance to sit down with utility sector industry experts and talk about technology and AI. We’re in the editing phase, and I will share the final product. STAY TUNED…
I’d like to have the interviews ready to go by next week. In the meantime, If you’re in the Baltimore area, I invited you to join the Mindgrub team and me at our AI in Action event, focused on healthcare, on October 12th. Todd Marks, CEO of Mindgrub, will be moderating, and I will be part of the panel, alongside several prominent industry leaders, discussing the transformative impact of AI on the healthcare sector. We still have complimentary tickets available, so please register and check it out!
p.s. Linda Yaccarino, the CEO of X, recently participated in an interview that’s become a topic of widespread discussion. During this interview, she revealed her mobile device home screen, which notably did not feature the X app. It got me thinking, what does my mobile device’s home screen say about me? What apps or widgets make your home screen?