Google Renames Robot Car Unit “Waymo” Reminding Us We Need to Know “Way More”

Company Correctly Backs Away from Offering Vehicles Without Steering Wheel and Pedals

SANTA MONICA, CA – Google’s new name for its robot car division, “Waymo,” fits, Consumer Watchdog said today, because it reminds us that we must know “way more” about robot cars and the serious policy issues they raise before self-driving cars can be safely deployed.

In announcing the new stand-alone robot car company CEO John Krafcik said self-driving cars would come with steering wheels and pedals for now, an apparent reversal of earlier plans. He said the company won’t make cars, but will partner with traditional automakers.

“Google – now Waymo – needs to tell the public way more about how their robot car systems work and what ethical choices are programmed into their secret algorithms,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “But, admitting that robot cars aren’t really ready to be put on our roads without steering wheels and the capability for a human driver to take control is an important acknowledgment of reality.”

Consumer Watchdog said that more information is critical to understanding the state and safety of self-driving technology. For example, data that is provided in the disengagement reports required by the California Department of Motor Vehicles showing when the robot driver failed in cars being tested. Google’s last disengagement report said its self-driving technology failed 341 times in 425,000 miles – 272 times because the software couldn’t cope, turning over control to the test driver and 69 times when the driver decided to intervene for safety reasons. The next disengagement reports are due to be filed with the DMV Jan. 1, 2017.

Google says the robot car company’s new name, “Waymo,” stands for “Way forward in mobility.”

“Google may want go forward,” said Simpson, “but there is way mo’ we need to know before they are allowed to.”

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Published by John M. Simpson

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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