Disability community split on U.S. ‘robotaxis’

Posted 8 months ago by David McManus
Waymo, formerly known as the ‘Google Self-Driving Car Project’ had been founded to increase mobility access and reduce human error associated harm. [Source: Sundry Photography via Shutterstock]
Waymo, formerly known as the ‘Google Self-Driving Car Project’ had been founded to increase mobility access and reduce human error associated harm. [Source: Sundry Photography via Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • The California Public Utilities Commission is set to vote on the future of self-driving ‘robotaxi’ companies, such as WayMo, on August 10, 2023
  • Waymo — owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc. — had sought to expand the scale of self-driving cars across the State of California
  • Advocates for people with disability have been divided on whether the technology is safe to access

 

On Thursday August 10, 2023, the California Public Utilities Commission will vote on whether to lift restrictions on ‘robotaxi’ autonomous vehicles in California — home to Alphabet Inc. project, Waymo and Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors.

Disability advocacy groups co-signed an open letter penned to the CPUC ahead of the vote, which expressed approval for the restrictions to be lifted.

San Francisco’s Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the Blinded Veterans Association, the Epilepsy Foundation of Northern California and United Cerebral Palsy executives were among the list of signatories to the letter.

“We are community partner organisations in San Francisco that believe we need to work with autonomous vehicle developers. The evidence to date shows that autonomous vehicles improve road safety, access to transportation, and the availability of zero-emission transportation,” the letter stated.

“[Autonomous vehicles] increase access to transportation for members of the communities we represent. Far too many people still find it far too hard to get where they need to go safely — a status quo that needs to change.

“In Phoenix’s East Valley, a study with the regional transportation authority found that a higher number of elderly people and people with disabilities engaged in more out-of-home activities when autonomous vehicles were made available within paratransit options.

“The accessibility offered by autonomous vehicles supported through critical partnerships and advocacy — can ensure this next generation of transportation is more inclusive than ever.”

Waymo and ridesharing service company Uber announced a planned partnership to bring the Waymo Driver ‘robotaxi’ service to Phoenix, Arizona in May, 2023 — with plans to publicly launch the integration later this year.

“We’re excited to offer another way for people to experience the enjoyable and life-saving benefits of full autonomy,” said Tekedra Mawakana, co-chief executive officer of Waymo.

“Uber has long been a leader in human-operated ridesharing, and the pairing of our pioneering technology and all-electric fleet with their customer network provides Waymo with an opportunity to reach even more people.”

“Uber provides access to a global and reliable marketplace across mobility, delivery and freight,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber.

“Fully autonomous driving is quickly becoming part of everyday life and we’re excited to bring Waymo’s incredible technology to the Uber platform.”

The California Council for the Blind wrote to the CPUC last month to delay the decision over safety concerns, reported The San Francisco Standard.

In December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had received notices of incidents in which self-driving Cruise vehicles “[…] may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilised.”

Carmakers have reported a total of 419 vehicle crashes involving semi or fully-autonomous vehicles, including 18 fatalities, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

 

What do you think? Would you trust a ‘robotaxi’ in 2023 or are people right to be concerned about safety?