Waymo's Self-Driving Cars to Ditch Human Test Drivers

Chelsea West
November 8, 2017

Neither Krafcik nor the company's reps shared exactly what has given the company the confidence to declare their vehicles "fully" self-driving, but it appears that Waymo has achieved Level 4 autonomy, which means the auto can handle every aspect of the driving experience on its own without need for human intervention.

Until then, members of Waymo's Early Rider program will be the first to ride these fully autonomous vehicles as the company collects more data.

The self-driving vehicle division of Google parent Alphabet Inc. on Tuesday said it quietly began testing the robot vans on October 19 in the Phoenix metro area, and laid out a vision for how it will deploy the technology to the public through a taxi service.

Waymo employees will be the first to test the fully automated rides.

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. Waymo employees sit in the back seat of the cars, monitoring them, a company spokesperson, Johnny Luu, said. Waymo said it plans to let passengers sit in the back in coming months, possibly without an employee in the auto.

"To have a vehicle on public roads without a person at the wheel, we've built some unique safety features into this minivan".

A self-driving electric shuttle built by Navya was tested early this year in Las Vegas in a USA first and will start a regular route there on Wednesday, the company told AFP.

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John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, the self-driving arm of Google's parent company, made the announcement Tuesday at Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal. But experts have said the public should not expect this problem to be solved quickly. Waymo has not said how many people are in the program. "One for napping; a personal dining room; a mobile office; or a vehicle just for when moving into your new place", he said.

The new rides are a major test for Waymo's technology, which has proved to be largely error-free in eight years.

The company began testing self-driving vehicles in Chandler in 2016. For the moment, this fully autonomous driving mode is limited to a 100 square mile metro region.

The company declined to say how many fully autonomous vehicles - beyond saying more than one - would be without a human driver behind the wheel.

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

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

Other reports by TheSundaySentinel

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