The auto industry is in the midst of a defining era as it works vigorously to safely increase the number of self-driving vehicles on public roads.
Waymo, which operates 600 self-driving vehicles in the Phoenix area, is an indication of how far the technology has evolved since 2009, when Google launched its self-driving car program, and since 2004, when teams of eager college students, entrepreneurs and corporations put early autonomous vehicles to the test in the first of three pivotal desert races staged by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
And yet, as the industry looks to build on that progress, it faces a number of challenges when it comes to creating a more robust environment for self-driving vehicles.
At a Shift panel discussion in June at Waymo headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., industry experts addressed the challenges that will impact the future of autonomous vehicles.
Simplifying the tech
One fundamental challenge is the complexity of the technology needed to develop and operate the vehicles.
A fully autonomous car requires an endless number of hardware and software components and algorithms, all focused on enabling an AV company such as Waymo to be able to see a self-driving vehicle's surroundings and understand what is happening around the car, before charting a vehicle's course from point A to point B.
"If you think about it, a lot of the challenges we faced back then are still the same problems that we are working on now," said Mike Montemerlo, senior staff software engineer at Waymo.