When the California Department of Motor Vehicles released its annual autonomous vehicle disengagement report Wednesday, Google’s self-driving platform, Waymo, came away looking like the big moves it made this year were well worth the fuss. The company posted significant year-over-year improvements in its self-driving tech’s safety and efficiency, even as it ramps up its autonomous efforts.
As its name implies, the DMV report tracks the total number of disengagements that occur while the self-driving cars log test miles on the state’s roads. Disengagements are instances when a driver takes manual control of a test vehicle in autonomous mode to correct its trajectory.
According to the report, which was first noted by The Verge, Waymo’s test cars logged 635,868 miles in 2016 and experienced 124 “reportable disengagements.” That’s a marked improvement from 2015 driving nearly 50 percent fewer miles (424,331), Google’s self-driving car’s had 341 reportable disengagements.
Waymo touted the results of the report in a blog post authored by the company’s head of self-driving technology, Dmitri Dolgov. He credits each individual disengagement for improving the system a familiar principle in machine learning systems, which improve with each new data point.
For each event we can create hundredsand sometimes thousandsof related scenarios in simulation, varying the parameters such as the position and speed of other road users in the area. This allows us to do a more thorough job identifying the root cause of any disengage and resolving any problems in a robust way. Last year alone, we drove over a billion miles in simulation, with a focus on tackling some of the toughest situations people could encounter on the road.
Waymo, which operated as a special project at Google for the last eight years, famously spun out from Alphabet into a standalone company last December. With 2016 in the rearview, look for the company to put even more focus on fine-tuning its self-driving system this year the report’s numbers don’t even account for Waymo’s in-house efforts to overhaul its self-driving platform, which hit California’s roads in a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans at the end of last month. With that new system in place, 2017’s disengagement report could have even better news next year.