This Guy Is Taking Viewers Along for His Driverless Rides

Waymo has long kept details about its industry-leading self-driving technology under wraps. The company has done millions of miles of testing in Arizona and California—including thousands of miles with no one behind the wheel. But until last month, almost everyone who experienced those driverless rides was bound by a strict nondisclosure agreement. ARS TECHNICAThis story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, tech policy analysis, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by WIRED's parent company, Condé Nast.In October, Waymo finally pulled back the curtain on its driverless technology. Today customers near the Phoenix suburb of Chandler can hail a fully driverless taxi. They can record rides, publish videos, and talk to reporters about their experiences.
One young Arizonan in particular has leaped at the chance to document the real-world performance of Waymo's driverless taxis. Joel Johnson is an Arizona State University student who is taking a break from college during the pandemic. He lives near Waymo's service territory and has been using some of his free time to put Waymo's driverless taxis through their paces. He says he has taken more than 60 driverless rides in the two months since Waymo opened driverless service up to the public. He has posted more than a dozen videos.The most striking thing about these videos is how boring they are. In nearly five hours of video, I didn't see Waymo's vehicles make a single significant mistake. That contrasts with the "full self-driving" software Tesla released in beta back in October. I watched three hours of videos of customers testing out Tesla's technology. Drivers intervened more than a dozen times—including two cases where a crash seemed imminent.Johnson's experience hasn't been like that at all. "It's been rock solid," he told Ars in a phone interview.

Courtesy of Joel Johnson
The Waymo One service still has a waiting list, so Johnson has offered rides to a number of others who don't have access yet. In addition to friends and family, Johnson says he has played host to industry insiders and YouTubers who made special trips to the Phoenix area to see Waymo cars in action.

"Everyone I've taken along with me in private rides, they trust it," Johnson said. "They forget that there's nobody driving except the computer because of how smooth the experience is."

"I love how the braking and acceleration is so—you don't even notice," one of Johnson's companions

. "It's really getting very smooth."

Johnson has been riding in Waymo vehicles since mid-2019, when he joined Waymo's closed Early Rider program. He says he has seen significant progress.

"They've really ironed out stuff like unprotected lefts," Johnson

. "It's definitely improved over time."

"That was awesome," a passenger said to Johnson at the

. "It's getting smarter. That was a lot better than in March."