GM’s Self-Driving Cars Are Catching Up to Waymo’s

Self-driving cars developed by Waymo need less help from humans sitting in the front seat than rivals -- though General Motors Co.’s are improving fast.

Self-driving cars developed by Waymo need less help from humans sitting in the front seat than rivals -- though General Motors Co.’s are improving fast.

The Alphabet Inc. unit’s cars drove in autonomous mode for more than 352,000 miles on California public roads last year, and engineers took control just 63 times, according to a report filed to the state. Waymo and GM both disengaged their self-driving systems during testing less than once per 1,000 miles.

California’s annual reports are a rare and incomplete snapshot of how self-driving cars are coming along for the automakers, suppliers, tech giants and startups in the hotly contested space. Other states have lured companies to test by opting against requiring such disclosures. And engineers also are logging countless test miles on closed tracks and in labs using video game-like simulation.

Waymo’s 0.18 disengagements per 1,000 miles compares with 0.8 for GM, which improved from a rate of about 18 during the year-earlier period. The companies’ 2017 reports to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles span the 12 months ending in November.

GM’s self-driving Chevrolet Bolts are equipped with systems designed by its San Francisco-based Cruise Automation unit. A spokesman for the carmaker declined to comment on its report.

‘Absurd’ Situations

Cruise Chief Executive Officer Kyle Vogt wrote in an October blog entry that GM is testing in dense urban environments including San Francisco to put its cars through tougher challenges, while other companies are resorting to easier-to-navigate suburban streets.

“Our vehicles encounter challenging (and often absurd) situations up to 46 times more often than other places self-driving cars are tested,” Vogt wrote. “Perhaps for this reason, nobody else is regularly testing self-driving cars in SF.”

Read more on GM’s steering wheel-less Chevy Bolts

Waymo doubled its total miles tested last year to almost 2 million miles, according to a blog post. The company reduced the amount of driving on public roads in its home state by almost half from 2016. It’s expanded testing elsewhere including Texas, Washington and Arizona, where it’s planning to begin a commercial service later this year.

— With assistance by Dana Hull

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