Self-Driving Cars With No Human Backups in Testing on Arizona Roads

Posted November 08, 2017

As The Verge reports, Waymo, the self-driving vehicle company owned by Google parent company Alphabet, has been letting autonomous cars rush over the roads of Arizona without someone in the driver's seat since the middle of last month. Self-driving auto companies typically have a safety driver ready to take over in case of an emergency, and safety drivers are mandatory in some states. And while Waymo's news that fully autonomous cars are here is a big deal, it's a much bigger deal that the company is officially announcing its plans to launch an autonomous taxi service in the metropolitan area of Phoenix following the testing period that's set over the next few months.

Companies testing autonomous cars typically have a human on hand ready to step in if the vehicle malfunctions.

While a Google employee will still sit in the back seat of Waymo's automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the empty driver's seat ramps up competition between the Motor City and Silicon Valley in the race to put fully self-driving cars on the road.

Like the rest of the self-driving industry, Waymo has generally kept test drivers in self-driving vehicles as a safeguard. (Waymo says that won't always be the case, though.) The cars won't have free rein over Arizona's roads. "Our ultimate goal is to bring our fully self-driving technology to more cities in the U.S. and around the world". Those who participated in the "early rider" program will also have the chance to access these fully self-driving cars.

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

Ride-sharing start-ups such as Uber and Lyft have also been making technological headway and forging partnerships in this arena, largely driven by the fact that their business models go from questionable to lucrative if a human driver is no longer part of the equation.

"This is the most advanced vehicle we've developed to date", he said.

"Everything in [Waymo's autonomous cars] is designed and built for full autonomy", Krafcik said. "Our radars can see underneath and around vehicles, tracking moving objects usually hidden from the human eye".

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"People will get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles, to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, or run errands". They hail the vehicles using a Waymo app, and being the trip onboard with a push of a button.

Following eight years of development and an ongoing public awareness campaign, Waymo's self-driving cars are now transporting passengers without a human behind the wheel.

Ditching the human test driver may sound alarming, but it brings Waymo closer to offering a truly autonomous vehicle.

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