Autonomous vehicle update: 5 FAQs as Google rolls out Phoenix program

Self-driving vehicles may or may not be the future. But there are certainly plenty of developments going on right now as Google, Uber, Tesla and other companies try to position themselves for what they hope will be an emerging market.

Through Waymo, its separate autonomous car company, Google is partnering with Fiat Chrysler on self-driving vehicles. Last week, the two companies announced a Phoenix-area program in which hundreds of people will get a chance to ride in self-driving vehicles so that the companies can get their feedback on what it was like.

In this post, we’ll use a Q & A format to inform you about some of the key developments regarding the development of autonomous vehicles.

The companies developing self-driving vehicles claim it will make driving safer. But have there already been accidents caused by those vehicles?

Self-driving car companies have high hopes of using the technology to reduce the number of vehicle accidents, which currently kill about 30,000 people are year.

But self-driving technology cannot cure all problems and the first fatal accident involving a self-driving vehicle has already occurred.

In May 2016, in Florida, a man was killed when his self-driving Tesla crashed into a truck and then a power pole.

Was the Tesla crash-avoidance system at fault in the accident?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigated and concluded that there was not a defect in the Tesla’s crash-avoidance system.

But Tesla’ self-driving cars are only partially autonomous. The NHTSA noted that riders in a Tesla with an Autopilot system still need to keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

What is the background on Google’s autonomous vehicles in Arizona?

Google is so committed to autonomous vehicles that in 2009 it created a separate company, called Waymo, to focus on developing the technology.

A year ago, Waymo and Chrysler Fiat began collaborating on building 100 self-driving hybrid Pacifica minivans. Tests on those vehicles were conducted in Arizona and two other states (California and Michigan).

In late April, Waymo announced that the chance to take a ride in a self-driving Pacifica in the Phoenix area would be available to hundreds of people.

How do you sign up to take a ride in a self-driving Pacifica in the Phoenix area?

The signup is on Waymo’s website.

Have there been any other tests like the one planned for Phoenix?

Waymo has offered rides in self-driving cars in Mountain View, California, where it is based. But the Phoenix program is much bigger.

Other companies have similar testing programs underway. Uber, for example, is using self-driving Volvos in a pilot project in Pittsburgh.