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Waymo's Self-Driving Milepost: Humans Take a Backseat
08 November 2017, 01:45 | Frank Carlson
Waymo now testing its self-driving cars on public roads with no one at the wheel
Waymo Chief Executive John Krafcik said Tuesday that the company, which grew out of Google's self-driving vehicle initiative, has begun running some of its fully autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans without a human backup in the driver's seat. At the time, Krafcik declined to provide an exact timetable as to when it would begin testing fully self-driving vehicles on public roads.
Initially, the driverless vans will be confined to a small area of metro Phoenix, with the goal of opening it up to the roughly 100-square-mile area already being tested with humans at the wheel and eventually to the entire metro area, which is larger than London.
The news that Waymo's vehicles have been on public roads with no human in the driver's seat was announced today by the company's CEO John Krafcik at a tech conference in Lisbon. With Waymo officially pulling safety driver's from the front seat, the West Coast company is pulling ahead and again threatening to beat Detroit at its own game. "Our ultimate goal is to bring our fully self-driving technology to more cities in the USA and around the world".
Although it has outlined its autonomous vehicles' safety procedures in the past-and today's announcement mentioned the word "safe" 10 times-Waymo wasn't immediately available to explain how riders will actually be able to halt a ride if they feel unsafe.
During a demonstration last week, Waymo gave rides to reporters on a closed course that included citylike scenarios. Developers are still grappling with vehicle performance in snow or heavy rain. We also have short range lasers that stay focused close-up to the side of the vehicle.
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The company plans to eventually launch a driverless on-demand ride service, potentially eliminating the need for auto ownership in the long term.
Waymo executives see removing the human backstop as a natural part of the evolution of their rigorous technology - and as a vital step in finally tapping all the commercial and social benefits they and other advocates of autonomous driving promise. "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", Krafcik said.
Waymo appears to have a head-start in what is expected to be a competitive race to a ride-sharing future, with established automakers such as Ford and BMW and ride-sharing groups Uber and Lyft in the mix.
And because Waymo is operating its vehicles in Arizona, where the laws regulating autonomous tests are practically non-existent, a lot of the reporting on the progress of these vehicles will be incredibly one-sided.
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