Waymo announces driverless test program in Phoenix, accepting ride hails soon

Dianna Christensen
November 8, 2017

Most of the measures Waymo has described in the past have involved a human taking over control of the vehicle from the driver's seat, but that would be quite hard to do from the back of the auto.

Waymo, the autonomous auto company from Google's parent company Alphabet, has started testing a fleet of self-driving vehicles without any backup drivers on public roads, its chief executive officer said Tuesday.

The service will be free at first, but Waymo expects at some point to start charging for rides, a potential way to earn revenue to help offset the steep costs involved in developing the technology. Beginning mid-October, these fully autonomous rides will expand to the public as part of a ride-hailing service in the coming months.

The California DMV recently proposed a set of rule changes that would allow for companies to test fully autonomous vehicles on public roads, which followed new federal guidelines for self-driving vehicles that passed through the House of Representatives and now await a vote in the Senate. Initially a Waymo employee will travel with the customers, but not behind the wheel as has been the case previously.

We all knew there would eventually come a day when self-driving cars would start roaming USA streets without someone in the driver's seat for safety, but you still might be surprised that the day has come this soon.

In his speech, Krafcik sketched out a near future where Waymo-powered self-driving vehicles could be deployed for a range of missions, with interiors to match.

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Waymo, formerly known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, is getting into the ride-hailing business, but with a twist.

"Since the beginning of this year, our early riders have been using our fleet - with a test driver at the wheel - to go to work, school, soccer practice and more". It isn't clear the public is willing to surrender control to a computer, and unexpected safety issues could arise in tricky environments, such as snow. Waymo has not said how many people are in the program. "One (vehicle) for napping, a personal dining room, a mobile office, or a vehicle just for when moving into your new place". Most other companies now conducting self-driving tests are only at Level 3, a level that still requires a human operator for some (if not most) situations.

Krafcik said Waymo's cars have already driven autonomously the equivalent of 140 times around the globe, and in just the a year ago have driven billions of miles in simulation.

The company began testing self-driving vehicles in Chandler in 2016.

Like the rest of the self-driving industry, Waymo has generally kept test drivers in self-driving vehicles as a safeguard.

The news also signals Waymo's confidence that its vehicles are safe enough to operate without a test driver.

Other reports by GlobalViralNews

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