Alphabet’s driverless-car company Waymo announced a new milestone today (Oct. 10): its vehicles have driven a collective 10 million miles on US roads.
With cars in six states, Waymo has really been racking up the miles since April 2017, when it launched a program giving rides to passengers around the Phoenix, Arizona area. At that point, Waymo cars had driven not quite 3 million miles since the company’s earliest days as a research project within Google in 2009. But in the last 18 months, the company more than tripled its road mileage.
Waymo’s “early rider” program serves 400 Phoenix-area residents who applied for the privilege of using Waymo’s apps and cars to ride around town. This year, the company doubled it operations in Chandler, Arizona (just outside of Phoenix) to accommodate growing rider demands, and it’s due to launch a commercial ride-hailing service this year.
Competing with other companies with autonomous-vehicle programs like Uber, Tesla, Apple, and GM’s Cruise, Waymo is leading the pack in terms of road miles driven. Still, it has a number of kinks to iron out. For instance, Waymo’s videos often show cars with empty drivers’ seats, with the steering wheel turning itself—but according to reporting from The Information, the “vast majority” of Waymo vehicles still use safety drivers. These human drivers can take over in case the self-driving software makes a dangerous decision. Waymo cars reportedly have problems turning left, a flaw the Information calls “the Zoolander problem”: local residents reported waiting behind Waymo cars for minutes at a time as the algorithm hesitates to turn into traffic.
The company’s next 10 million miles, CEO John Krafcik said in today’s announcement, will focus on “striking the balance” between its safety-first algorithms and driving assertively in everyday maneuvers, like merging, and navigating bad weather. But it’s worth keeping things in perspective: US drivers rack up some 3 trillion miles each year, so Waymo still has some ground to cover.