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Robotaxi Trials in San Francisco: Waymo vs. Cruise


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Two companies are the leaders in autonomous vehicle (AV) investments and are planning to start robotaxi deployment in San Francisco as soon as all the permits are available — Waymo and Cruise. This column compares their effort based on the public data that is available from California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). A later column will explore additional data from California Public Utility Commission (PUC).

These two California agencies have oversight of the AV testing activities and essentially control when robotaxi services are introduced in California. Currently, both Waymo and Cruise have taken multiple steps on the path to provide driverless robotaxi services in San Francisco.

The next table summarizes how the AV efforts of Waymo and Cruise stack up, with a focus on the public data available for California.

Waymo has testing efforts in three AV use cases: robotaxis, robotrucks, and goods delivery by trucks and vans. Robotaxi is the leading use case for Cruise, with goods delivery by cars, vans, and small trucks as a secondary focus.

Table outlining differences between Waymo and Cruise AV capabilities
Table 1: Waymo and Cruise AV comparisons (Source: Egil Juliussen) (Click image to enlarge)

Investors: A total of 12 companies have invested $5.5 billion in Waymo, according to Crunchbase, including many VC firms. Alphabet is the parent company of Waymo and is its main investor.

Cruise has 46 investors based on Crunchbase data with a value exceeding $15 billion, including debt financing. GM is the parent company and is the leading investor. Honda is also a major investor and will use Cruise AV technology. Microsoft and Walmart have invested in Cruise. As part of the Microsoft investment, Cruise will use Microsoft Azure cloud technology.

OEM partners: Waymo has a varied group of car OEM partners with Nissan, Renault, Stellantis, and Volvo cars. Waymo has Daimler trucks as a partner for its autonomous truck group.

Cruise has two major car OEMs as partners: GM and Honda. Both companies are working together in developing robotaxis and other AVs. Cruise is not investing in autonomous trucks but is likely to get partners for goods deliveries using vans and small trucks.

Goods delivery partners: Waymo is working with multiple logistics companies for autonomous trucks, including AutoNation, CH Robinson, JB Hunt, and UPS. Walmart and Safeway are partners for goods delivery using minivans and similar vehicles.

Cruise is working with Walmart for goods delivery using cars, with vans likely to be added.

Robotaxi pilots: Both companies are leaders in robotaxi testing and pilot programs. Waymo was the first company to start a robotaxi pilot in the Chandler area, near Phoenix, in 2018. Most of the robotaxi service is now with driverless AVs. Waymo is starting robotaxi trials in downtown Phoenix.

Waymo is now expanding its robotaxi testing to San Francisco and has a pilot program started with safety drivers, or “drivered” in California PUC terminology. Waymo is looking at Los Angeles and maybe New York for future robotaxi testing.

Cruise has focused most of its robotaxi testing in San Francisco and currently has permits for both drivered and driverless testing in San Francisco. Cruise has also tested its robotaxis in the Phoenix area.

California data

Table 1 summarizes AV testing data in California. As of March 2022, Waymo had permits for 630 drivered AVs and 71 driverless AVs. Cruise had permits for 236 drivered AVs and 52 driverless AVs.

From 2015 to 2021, Waymo drove 7.1 million miles in the California DMV AV testing program. Waymo’s share of all AV miles was 56.3% during the seven–year timeframe. Cruise started in 2016 and covered 3.06 million AV miles through its six–year testing. Cruise had a share of 24.3% of total AV miles by all companies that test AVs in California.

California PUC started AV testing in 2019 and published quarterly results. The latest data ending in February 2022 was posted in April. Waymo drove 2.7 million miles from July 2019 through February 2022 and accounted for over 95% of the total AV miles. All of Waymo’s AV miles were by drivered AVs.

Cruise got its PUC permit for drivered AVs in late 2019 and for driverless AVs in late 2021. Cruise is now focused on driverless AVs and stopped its drivered testing in San Francisco in December 2021. Cruise had only driven its PUC AVs a total of 4,700 miles by end of February 2022.

The California AV test results are the most comprehensive public AV data anywhere. There are seven years of historical data. The next table shows summary data by year for Waymo, Cruise, and a total for all AV companies that participated.

If you need more detail, two columns cover the last two years. The 2021 data is covered in this column; the 2020 data is available in this column.

The next table summarizes AV permits, AV miles driven, and average miles between disengagements.

Table outlining California DMV's AV testing data for Waymo and Cruise
California DMV’s AV testing data (Source: Egil Juliussen) (Click image to enlarge)

The data is available here. The monthly spreadsheet data comprises AV testing for one year from December through November in the following year.

Companies with AV miles: The number of companies testing AVs in California grew from eight in 2015 to a peak of 48 in 2018. Total AV testing companies declined to 31 in 2020 and 25 in 2021. There are more companies with AV testing permits, but many do not test each year. Currently, 47 companies have permits to test AVs with a safety driver in the driver seat.

AV permits: The total number of AV permits grew from 71 in 2015 to 1,173 in 2021. Waymo has had the most AV permits, except in 2017 and 2018, when Cruise had the most. In 2021, Waymo had 693 AV permits, or 59% of total permits. In 2021, Cruise had 138 AV permits, which is 12% of the total.

AV miles: Total AV miles was 451,000 in 2015 and grew to over 2 million miles in 2018 and nearly 2.9 million miles in 2019. Then came the pandemic in 2020, and total AV miles dropped below 2 million miles. Total AV miles more than doubled in 2021 to nearly 4.1 million miles.

Waymo has been the leader in AV miles every year except 2020, when Cruise was the leader. In 2015, Waymo accounted for 94% of total AV miles (424,000 miles). In 2016, Waymo was even more dominant at over 96% of total miles (635,000 miles). In 2017, Waymo’s AV miles dropped to 363,000, which is probably due to its effort to start robotaxi testing in the Phoenix area in 2018. Waymo AV miles reached nearly 1.3 million miles in 2018 and over 1.4 million miles in 2019. In 2020, Waymo AV miles dropped to 628,000, with a share of 31.5% of all AV miles. Waymo came back strongly in 2021, with over 2.3 million miles and nearly 57% of total AV miles.

Cruise started slowly with less than 10,000 AV miles in 2016, which jumped to 130,000 in 2017. Cruise more than tripled its AV mile in 2018 to 448,000 and nearly doubled in 2019 to 832,000 AV miles. Cruise was the AV miles leader in 2020 with 770,000 miles, or nearly 39% of total miles. This was due to Cruise providing extensive deliveries of needed goods during the pandemic in San Francisco. Cruise AV miles reached its highest level in 2021 at 876,000, or 21% of total AV miles.

Cumulative AV miles: This section adds the cumulative miles by year. Total California DMV miles topped 1.1 million miles in 2016 and surpassed 3.6 million in 2018. Strong growth continued in 2019 to over 6.5 million and 8.5 million in 2020. Cumulative AV miles topped 12.6 million in 2021.

Waymo has been the leader in cumulative AV miles every year and has accounted for at least 56% of total AV miles in every year. Waymo’s cumulative AV miles share has declined from over 95% in 2015 and 2016 to 63.5% in 2019. In 2021 Waymo’s cumulative AV miles topped 7.1 million, with a 56.3% share of total miles.

Cruise is now a strong second in cumulative AV miles, surpassing 1.4 million miles in 2019 and reaching 3.06 million miles in 2021, with a share of 24.3%.

AV miles per disengagement: Disengagement is when the safety driver takes control of driving the AV. This may happen if the AV software driver hands control over to the safety driver. Or the safety driver takes control if it looks like the software driver cannot handle a near-term driving situation.

The average miles per disengagement is a measure of the competence of the software driver. The more miles per disengagement, the better the capability of the software driver. It is the only measurement that is publicly available, but much more data is needed for assessing a software driver platform.

Waymo and Cruise have much higher miles per disengagement than the total for all AV participants. In the 2015 to 2017 timeframe, total miles per disengagement ranged from 163 to 259, while Waymo grew from 1,254 miles in 2015 to 5,596 in 2017. Cruise reached 1,236 miles per disengagement in 2017.

In 2018, Apple and Uber had extremely high disengagements, with 97% of all disengagement but less than 3% of AV miles. With Apple and Uber included, the total miles per disengagement was only 14. Excluding Apple and Uber give 477 miles per disengagement. Total miles per disengagement declined to 308 in 2019 but grew strongly in 2020. Maybe the pandemic in 2020 with less traffic made it easier to drive for the software drivers.

In 2021, total miles per disengagement jumped by nearly 3× and reached 1,571 AV miles between disengagements. This improvement is probably due to fewer AV testing companies and only one newcomer, Apollo, which had extensive experience from China AV testing.

Waymo’s miles per disengagement was on a strong growth path from 1,254 in 2015 to nearly 30,000 in 2020. Then came 2021, when miles per disengagement declined to below 8,000. This may be partially due to increased AV testing in San Francisco, but it is still unclear why there was such a big drop.

This gives Cruise a lead over Waymo in 2021 with over 41,700 miles per disengagement — up from 28,500 in 2020. Cruise has done its AV testing in San Francisco since 2016.

Closing comments

The yearly AV testing data from the California DMV is one of the few sources of public data, and it has the most historical information. This makes it an important source for analyzing the status of AVs in the U.S.

It is clear that Waymo and Cruise are the leaders in AV testing in California. They lead in AVs used, AV miles driven, and in getting permits for robotaxi pilot testing.

Both Waymo and Cruise are eager to get started with paid driverless robotaxi service in San Francisco. The next column will look at California PUC data and other information for Waymo and Cruise.


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