Waymo rolls out autonomous vans without human drivers

Published: Tuesday, November 07, 2017 @ 11:03 AM
Updated: Tuesday, November 07, 2017 @ 11:02 AM


            FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, file photo, a Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo's suite of sensors and radar is shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Waymo is testing vehicles on public roads with only an employee in the back seat. The testing started Oct. 19 with an automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Ariz. It’s a major step toward vehicles driving themselves without human backups on public roads. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)
FILE - In this Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, file photo, a Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo's suite of sensors and radar is shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Waymo is testing vehicles on public roads with only an employee in the back seat. The testing started Oct. 19 with an automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Ariz. It’s a major step toward vehicles driving themselves without human backups on public roads. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

DETROIT (AP) — A self-driving car company created by Google is pulling the human backup driver from behind the steering wheel and will test vehicles on public roads with only an employee in the back seat.

The move by Waymo started Oct. 19 with an automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona. It's a major step toward vehicles driving themselves without human backups on public roads. The company also said it would launch a ride service to compete with Uber and Lyft.

Waymo, which is owned by Google's parent company Alphabet, is in a race with other companies including Delphi, General Motors, Intel, Uber, Apple and Lyft to bring autonomous vehicles to the public. The companies say the robot cars are safer than human drivers because they don't get drowsy, distracted or drunk.

Google has long stated its intent to skip driver-assist systems and go directly to fully autonomous driving. The Waymo employee in the back seat won't be able to steer the minivan, but like all passengers, will be able to press a button to bring the van safely to a stop if necessary, Waymo said.

Within a "few months," the fully autonomous vans will begin carrying volunteer passengers who are now taking part in a Phoenix-area test that includes use of backup drivers.

The company says the self-driving ride service will be the first application of the technology.

"We want the experience of traveling with Waymo to be routine, so you want to use our driver for your everyday needs," Waymo CEO John Krafcik said prepared remarks announcing the test Tuesday at a conference in Portugal.

The company intends to expand the testing to the entire 600-square-mile (1,500-square-kilometer) Phoenix area and eventually bring the technology to more cities around the world. It's confident that its system can handle all situations on public roads without human intervention, Krafcik said.

"Our system runs thousands of checks on itself every second," he said. "With these checks, our systems can instantly diagnose any problems and pull over or come to a safe stop if needed."

The company also says it has redundant braking, steering, power and computing systems so it never has to rely on a human driver.

Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for Navigant Research, says Waymo's tests without a human backup are the first to his knowledge on public roads at normal speeds. The company picked Phoenix because weather conditions are ideal for testing with no snow and little rain, he said, adding that Waymo knows its system isn't ready yet for inclement weather even with camera, radar and laser sensors.

"This demonstrates Waymo's confidence in the ability of these vehicles to function at least in this environment," Abuelsamid said.

He said he expects General Motors and its Cruise Automation autonomous vehicle unit to be the next to announce testing without human backups, followed by auto parts maker Delphi, which recently acquired Massachusetts Institute of Technology self-driving software startup nuTonomy.

Waymo wouldn't say how many vehicles will be in the initial test or exactly how wide an area it will cover. The test will take place in a small area at first, then spread to portions of five cities and 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) in the Phoenix area. Eventually it will go to whole metro area.

The company also wouldn't say how many minivans are taking part in the initial testing. It has a fleet of 100 autonomous vans in Phoenix, with plans to add 500.

Waymo says it has an operations team that can answer questions from the cars' computers, but the cars will make driving decisions.

The company said it has been testing its autonomous systems for the past eight years with more than 5 million miles logged on public roads.

Waymo is hoping to infuse its technology into ride-hailing services such as its current partner, Lyft, and big-rig trucking companies. It also intends to license its automated system to automakers such as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which makes the Pacifica minivan.

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Police: Student was punched, spat on before dorm stabbing

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 3:35 AM

Georgia State University student Sean Rowtham is accused of assaulting another student in a fight. The other student was also charged in the incident, according to the GSU police chief.
Fulton County Sheriff's Office
Georgia State University student Sean Rowtham is accused of assaulting another student in a fight. The other student was also charged in the incident, according to the GSU police chief.(Fulton County Sheriff's Office)

A Georgia State University student walked up to another student, spat on him and punched him before the suspect stabbed him multiple times in a university dorm, the school’s police chief said Thursday.

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University and Atlanta police responded to a call about the fight Tuesday, GSU police chief Joe Spillane said.

Nakia Roach was found in the the laundry room of a dorm with multiple stab wounds. He was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in stable condition. The other student, Sean Rowtham, was located by police in the dorm lobby and detained.

“After interviewing witnesses,” Spillane said, “it was determined that the two males know each other and had an ongoing dispute. The male who was stabbed was actively looking for the male who stabbed him.”

When he found him, Spillane said, Rowtham was holding a knife at his side.

Rowtham took the knife out as soon as Roach walked into the laundry room, but he didn’t hold it in a threatening way, according to the chief.

“Roach is about twice as big as Mr. Rowtham,” Spillane said.

Rowtham has been charged with aggravated assault in the incident. Roach has been charged with simple battery.

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Some Ohio school districts arm staff, but don't tell public 

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:25 AM

A teacher is shown how to handle a handgun by an instructor during a training session.
George Frey/Getty Images
A teacher is shown how to handle a handgun by an instructor during a training session.(George Frey/Getty Images)

Several school districts in Ohio have armed staff and teachers in an effort to prevent school shootings, but some of those districts have not told parents, students and taxpayers about the firearms in their buildings.

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On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said that if one of the victims, a football coach, in last week’s Florida school shooting had been armed “he would have shot and that would have been the end of it.”

The move to arm teachers is growing in Ohio, even if the public has no idea.

In August 2017 some superintendents said they are aware of districts that have armed staff and teachers without making the move public.

“It’s way more prevalent than people realize,” Mad River Schools Superintendent Chad Wyen said. His district trained and armed employees last year. “Sixty-three out of 88 counties in Ohio have a district with a response team.”

While some details — types and locations of weapons and names of trained staff — are undisclosed as part of Mad River’s safety plan, the mere fact that students and parents know guns are in the building is more information than other Ohio districts provide publicly.

“We decided to be transparent,” said Chris Burrow, superintendent of Georgetown Exempted Village Schools in Brown County, east of Cincinnati, in a 2017 interview. “We went to training this summer, and there were districts that did not tell their communities.”

The superintendents did not specify which schools they knew implemented gun training but did not tell the public.

Burrow’s staff follows a path already blazed by Edgewood City Schools in Butler County, which adopted a concealed carry policy in 2013.

Superintendents who have armed their teachers and staff have largely expressed positive results.

“We had others that just had a lot of questions, especially people who are hesitant around guns,” Burrow said. “I did have a few staff members who said, ‘I don’t know if I can work here.’”

“We worked through it,” he said. “They weren’t as adamantly opposed as they were before.”

Four years after bringing guns into Sidney City Schools, Superintendent John Scheu said more than 90 percent of the staff who first volunteered have stayed with the program. He said the district has no issue finding educators willing to bear arms.

“As a matter of fact, we have a waiting list,” Scheu said.

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Hero German shepherd takes bullet for teenager in home invasion

Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 8:50 PM

(KIRO7.com)
(KIRO7.com)

When burglars violently broke into a Des Moines, Washington, home mid-afternoon on Wednesday, a teenager hid in a closet and held onto his dog.

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But Rex -- a 2-year-old German shepherd -- ran downstairs to protect the 16-year-old.

The dog confronted the burglars, who beat him until he was bloody. The dog ran back upstairs.

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With the dog out of sight, the home invasion continued as the two burglars trashed the house room by room. When they came into the bedroom where the teen and the dog were hiding in the closet, and the teen was on the phone with 911, the dog stood up to them with the little strength he had left.

>> Related: Police: Des Moines teen calls 911 from closet during home invasion

He threw himself at the burglars, the teen's family wrote on a GoFundMe page, and was shot at least three times in the neck, leg and knee.

As the sound of sirens became audible, the burglars ran away.

Officers found smashed sliding door glass when they went into the home to get the teen outside safely. They also found Rex, who at first looked dead.

While SWAT teams looked for the suspects, Rex was taken to the animal hospital. 

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He was eventually taken to BluePearl, where he is in the veterinary intensive care unit, receiving pain medication, antibiotics and wound care, with round-the-clock monitoring of his vital signs.
After making it through the night, the dog is now in stable condition.

As Rex recovers, people on social media have taken to calling him a "hero dog" for intervening between the burglars and the teenager.

"My nephew was protected by his eternal friend until the last bit of strength he had in him to do what his unconditional, loving instinct told him to," family member Susy Cadena said on the GoFundMe page.

The family started crowdfunding after paying large sums of money for X-rays and urgently needed medication for Rex. They hope to raise $10,000 to cover the expenses.

"Our family cannot let Rex the hero dog go without us fighting as hard as he did, to his very last bit of a strength while protecting my nephew," Cadena said.

Meanwhile, officers are still looking for the suspects, and they are trying to figure out why the house was targeted.

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Armed Stoneman Douglas resource officer 'never went in' during Florida shooting

Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 5:35 PM

Armed Stoneman Douglas Resource Officer Resigns

The school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has resigned, according to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.

[View the story "Stoneman Douglas resource officer resigns after investigation" on Storify]

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