Are driverless cars really a thing? How will we use them? Will they take our jobs? Can you have sex in them?

A selection of the questions put to John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, during his compelling conversation with Evan McMorris-Santoro of Vice News at SXSW 2018.

Waymo’s goal is to build the world’s most experienced driver that can take people and things anywhere with just the press of a button. The pros and cons of achieving this goal can be explored by unpacking the questions put to Krafcik in the session.

Firstly, are driverless cars really a thing?

Krafcik says yes. After 9 years and more than 4 million miles, what started out as a Google moon-shot is becoming a reality. Later this year, Waymo will launch its driverless ride-hailing service in the Greater Phoenix area — having signed up 20,000 local volunteers to an early rider programme designed to test the tech and get people used to seeing driverless cars on their roads.

Elon Musk agrees, saying that self-driving will encompass all modes of driving by the end of next year

The findings from the early rider programme are conclusive. People are apprehensive at first, but quickly get used to the idea. Some passengers even felt so comfortable that they used the free time for a nap. Krafcik described seeing napping passengers in driverless cars as the most rewarding insight — people felt safe and trusted the tech enough to take a nap.

How will we use driverless cars?

In the short-term, Waymo is a ride-sharing service — press a button and a driverless car shows up to take you where you want to go.

Whilst not ruling out licensing the tech to manufacturers to build driverless cars for us all to own in the future, the focus now is on developing a more efficient relationship with cars in the US.

Some cities have 20-30% of their space dedicated to the automobile, and most of the time the cars in these spaces are empty. 75% of journeys in the US are taken by people driving alone in big cars that are bad for the environment. Ride-sharing with Waymo would go some way to redressing this situation. So the theory goes.

Another benefit of handing over our keys to machines is they don’t act like humans. They don’t drive tired, angry or drunk — and they don’t discriminate. A Waymo cab will pick you up if you live in an area perceived by humans as undesirable or too remote.

Will they take our jobs?

Taxi drivers and truckers are most at risk. Companies like Waymo need to think about how they could help the workers they displace, something that Krafcik says he’s acutely aware of. Helping reskill taxi drivers and truckers could be a great opportunity for a disruptive purpose-led brand to explore.

Can you have sex in a Waymo car?

Which is not as irreverent as it first appears. What happens to the data that the cars capture? Who sees it and where is it stored? For most people, this concern probably isn’t as closely tied to such in-car ‘entertainment’, but it’s a great question that serves to illustrate a bigger concern around privacy. The answer to this particular question, from a very calm and collected Krafcik, is “erm, why not!”, which nicely wraps up a great conversation in a packed out convention centre in Austin.

The main takeout from the conversation is that driverless cars will soon be on our roads, and are set to disrupt many aspects of the business of transportation.

 

Full coverage of SXSW 2018:

SXSW Day 1: Empower Displaced People Through Technology. 

SXSW Day 2: Google as the Translator Between Humans and Machines.

SXSW Day 3: What Does the Internet Look Like Without Screens?

We Love Ester Perel.