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  • (upbeat music)

  • - Hello, from San Francisco.

  • This is Patrick McGee from the Financial Times

  • and I'm quite excited about this upcoming interview.

  • We've got 30 minutes with John Krafcik.

  • He is charismatic, he is energetic,

  • and he is the CEO of Waymo,

  • formerly known as the Google self-driving project,

  • which goes back to 2009.

  • They are really in, I mean, I think

  • pretty basically you could say

  • they're the leading self-driving / driverless

  • / autonomous robot taxi service operating.

  • They operate the only real driverless service

  • in Phoenix right now.

  • They, I believe test in 25 cities, including on my streets

  • it's even possible that I'll flip the camera at some stage

  • if a Waymo goes by.

  • They've done more miles autonomously

  • than any other driverless company.

  • And if we really want to get a sense of

  • when this technology might change our lives,

  • I think it was nobody better to speak with

  • than John Krafcik CEO of Waymo.

  • Who is joining me here.

  • So hello, John.

  • - Hey Patrick, it's great to be here.

  • Thanks so much for having us.

  • - You got the Waymo mug very nicely placed just over your-

  • - Yeah, Waymo mug is strategically placed

  • and over my other shoulder,

  • there's the little Firefly prototype.

  • - Oh, wait, I can't see it.

  • I feel like I see a globe.

  • Oh, I see just above that, yes.

  • All right, we'll get to the Firefly in a second

  • 'cause that's really interesting.

  • Yeah, this is your no pedals, no steering wheel vehicle

  • but you've moved beyond that.

  • And actually that's something that I wanna get to

  • in a little bit.

  • I'm hoping you can begin

  • with what I consider to be a pivotal story for Waymo.

  • Which is you developed your first driverless car

  • in I think late 2009, 2010.

  • And by 2012 you were doing these pilot projects,

  • allowing Google employees,

  • So people that had nothing to do

  • with the self-driving project,

  • you're allowing them to commute with their vehicles.

  • Sorry, with your vehicles.

  • Telling them, you know under no circumstances,

  • should you not be overseeing the vehicle.

  • You need to be doing that, but look how cool this is.

  • You know, let's do some tests and you filmed them.

  • And I think the film, when the footage came back to you,

  • it shocked you and it really

  • put Waymo on a different trajectory.

  • So do you wanna tell us that story?

  • - Yeah, yeah and maybe just the tiniest bit of context too.

  • So you're right, Patrick.

  • The project started in 2009 and by 2010,

  • this scrappy little team of 20 to 30 folks

  • had done some pretty extraordinary demonstrations

  • of fully autonomous driving.

  • Famously there were 10, 100-mile challenges

  • that the team was able to compete

  • in the first year and a half or two years.

  • One of them included driving all around your neighborhood

  • in San Francisco and then over to Lombard Street.

  • There was another challenge.

  • They went from Mountain View up El Camino, all the way

  • 222 stoplights or whatever it was to San Francisco.

  • The team drove around Tahoe, the team drive to Santa Cruz.

  • So they made a lot of progress

  • in demonstrating the promise of the technology, right?

  • And so at the time Google's thought was,

  • well, what's the first viable at scale commercial product?

  • The initial hypothesis was ironically

  • something called autopilot, team called it autopilot.

  • And it was meant to command the car very safely

  • to drive the car very safely

  • from entry point to a highway or freeway to exit point.

  • And so in Google fashion at the time,

  • the company asked for volunteers within Google,

  • we call this internally in the Google world, dogfooding.

  • And lots of people were interested in this possibility.

  • You'd get a free car at the time, the team was putting

  • the driving mechanisms and the sensors

  • and the compute onto Lexus RX SUVs.

  • And there was a great demand for folks

  • to actually give this a try.

  • So the bar was set quite high.

  • You had to agree to certain stipulations

  • including an indication that you understood

  • this was beta technology and it might not be perfect.

  • So you needed to stay at vigilant.

  • You could take your hands off the wheel

  • but you had to keep your eyes on the road.

  • You had to stay alert

  • and we'd have cameras in the car to monitor you.

  • And if we saw you misbehaving,

  • we would take away this great privilege, right?

  • So we started the project sometime in February,

  • I think it was 2013.

  • And within a month we shut the project down

  • because we saw so many examples of humans misbehaving.

  • And it's this fundamental conundrum that we face

  • whenever humans are forced to supervise technology, right?

  • It's really hard

  • and as the technology gets better and better

  • and by the way this technology

  • that we had at that time was amazing.

  • Humans tend to check out and just assume that

  • the technology is going to be perfect.

  • So in our videos, which you can find in,

  • Patrick, if you haven't seen them we can send them to you.

  • I think they're somewhere on our website at waymo.com.

  • We saw some first indications of concern with

  • the folks in the driver's seat turning around

  • to fuss with things in the backseat.

  • We saw one woman putting on makeup, using an eyelash curler.

  • And the scariest thing we saw was a Googler

  • who was driving to work early in the morning, predawn,

  • driving down highway 280 at about 62 miles an hour

  • who fell asleep because they had so much confidence

  • in this technology that had been working for them so well

  • over the course of a week or so, right?

  • They had already checked out.

  • So we shut that effort down and it sort of inspired us

  • to move in a different direction to solve for full autonomy,

  • fully autonomous driving.

  • - Okay, so let me pause you there.

  • The reason I'm bringing up this seven-year-old story

  • is I feel like it has added urgency now

  • because Tesla, which I guess to some extent is a rival,

  • has its own technology also called Autopilot.

  • But the latest iteration is called full self-driving.

  • And I feel like it's pretty clear they've come to the same,

  • you know, fork in the road.

  • They've seen the same problems with automation, complacency.

  • And yet they've basically said, you know,

  • "We're not taking liability, the driver is."

  • They have some prompts that they agree to

  • and we're gonna allow the system to run.

  • And they want to expand it, you know eventually to

  • potentially hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

  • So based on Waymo's decision,

  • I wanna know to what extent you think that's reckless.

  • Because I don't know that regulators and consumers

  • really make distinctions between

  • different self-driving systems.

  • And what worries me is that

  • if mistakes get made on Tesla's part

  • and you know, these are cars traveling 60 miles an hour

  • so clearly fatalities could be involved.

  • Does that not pose a risk that you cast upon

  • on the entire self-driving industry?

  • - Yeah, maybe a couple points to make there, Patrick.

  • It is important that we talk about these things.

  • The first is Waymo's mission in the world,

  • isn't to be a car company.

  • Our product is a driver.

  • That's our sole focus.

  • And if you look at the business lines

  • that we are just now starting,

  • for example the ride sharing service that is fully open.

  • Unlimited availability to anyone who's in Southeast Phoenix,

  • you can hail a Waymo.

  • Just download the app and a fully self-driving Waymo

  • will come in and take you from wherever you wanna go,

  • from wherever you are to wherever you wanna go.

  • So the technology is here right now.

  • Our key technology is the driver.

  • That's the most important point.

  • That's what we're here for.

  • We're not a car company, therefore,

  • so we really don't see Tesla as a competitor.

  • Rather we see Tesla and other car companies

  • working primarily in the driver assist area,

  • which is important and good.

  • And good driver assist technology can save lives.

  • There's no question about it.

  • The challenge, I think for the auto industry,

  • the traditional auto industry, is to ensure that

  • consumers understand the limitations, right?

  • And the conundrum that we saw at Google back in 2013 is,

  • as the driver assist systems get better and better

  • and better, humans will tend to have more propensity

  • to check out and not do as good a job as

  • supervising that technology.

  • It's a challenging conundrum.

  • So the good news right now is that the driver assist systems

  • do need human attention and they require

  • constant surveillance and humans are able to stay

  • sufficiently busy for the most part,

  • monitoring those things.

  • As they continue to get better, though that's the challenge.

  • You would think that there would be increased safety

  • but there's also increased risk at the same time

  • that the human licensed driver in the driver's seat

  • might check out at just the wrong moment

  • when the car needs some help.

  • - But do you worry about Tesla being reckless

  • and posing risks that might come back to haunt

  • the likes of Waymo?

  • - I think, you know, it's nothing that we can really control

  • at the Waymo side.

  • We're gonna do our best to speak about our technology

  • and deploy it safely and responsibly.

  • You know, I do think it's important

  • for all the participants, both on the driver assist side

  • and the fully autonomous side

  • to be as precise as possible with language, right?

  • And if a licensed driver is required,

  • it should be referred to as a driver assist system.

  • If a licensed driver in the car isn't required,

  • which is the only technology that Waymo is working on,

  • then I think then you should call that

  • a fully autonomous solution.

  • - Right.

  • Okay, so given that you went over some of the early facts

  • of having a autonomous driver system

  • that could navigate Lombard street,

  • you know, famous tourist, windy hairpin turn street

  • in San Francisco 10 years ago.

  • What in a sense is taking so long

  • for this to sort of conquer cities the way that Uber did?

  • I think a hundred cities within four years.

  • And I guess what I look back to with Waymo is

  • in 2018 you ordered 60,000

  • or up to 60,000 Chrysler Pacificas

  • and up to 20,000 Jaguar, I‑PACEs.

  • But if I look for the latest statistics,

  • the latest I've heard is still around 600 vehicles.

  • I think you probably just haven't updated it

  • and it's more than that,

  • but correct me if I'm wrong, it's not in the thousands.

  • It's not in the tens of thousands.

  • So why the postponement in delaying a driverless solution?

  • - Look, I think the technical challenge

  • that we're talking about is probably the most complex thing

  • that a group of humans have ever tried to do.

  • Moving a large physical mass from any point A to any point B

  • on the ground with all of the chaos and entropy

  • that's associated with traffic

  • is an extraordinary task, right?

  • There's no question.

  • And if you look at our timeline, yeah,

  • it has taken some time.

  • We demonstrated the first fully autonomous ride

  • on public roads back in 2015.

  • In October 2015 in Austin, Texas.

  • We're just past the five-year mark now.

  • And if you look at the chunks of time since then, Patrick,