Waymo's Self-Driving Milepost: Humans Take a Backseat

Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here

The autonomous auto unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc. said on Tuesday it will soon start chauffeuring people in minivans without "safety drivers", staffers that man the steering wheel.

Waymo's fleet of autonomous vehicles is now prepared to drive on public roads without a safety operator, according to CEO John Krafcik, who announced the development onstage at the Web Summit in Lisbon.

"Over time, we'll expand to cover the entire Phoenix region, which is larger than Greater London", Krafcik said, screening a video of Waymo's driverless Pacificas cruising the streets of Phoenix. "We're committed to building what we call fully self-driving technology". Bringing that truly driverless Level 4 experience to public roads and public riders is a huge step, and a sign we could be hailing an autonomous ride sooner than you might think.

Waymo shared some footage of the fully self-driving Pacificas out on the roads, demonstrating how the vehicles can handle different driving responsibilities like stopping for pedestrians and stoplights, signaling to turn, and more. Waymo has not said how many people are in the program. He ticked off the ways driverless cars could be redesigned if the vehicle didn't need space for a driver: to ferry groceries, as a "personal dining room" or for naps.




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.

During a demonstration last week, Waymo gave rides to reporters on a closed course that included citylike scenarios. Eventually the public will be allowed to travel alone.

At the time of the event, the most obvious reason for Waymo to invite outsiders was simply to position the company as being on the cutting edge of an increasingly competitive field that includes longtime automakers such as Ford and Mercedes-Benz and tech-steeped start-ups such as Tesla and Faraday Future. "Getting access will be as easy as using an app; just tap a button and Waymo will come to you, and take you where you want to go".

Public education is one piece of Waymo's strategy. Passengers will initially be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but will eventually travel alone in the robotic auto. The cars also feature screens that show where the vehicle is headed and what its sensors are seeing, from other cars to pedestrians. The company has partnerships with Fiat-Chrysler, Lyft, and Avis, even while it's manufacturing its own sensors and hardware to reduce dependence on suppliers.

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