Waymo pulls engineer from driver's seat on public roads

Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here

Self-driving auto company, Waymo, announced Tuesday it is pulling the just-in-case human driver from behind the steering wheel.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said in October the company aims to take the driver out of its self-driving vehicles "in quarters, not years".

Not anymore. The fleet of self-driving cars will at first operate in a limited area in Phoenix, but Waymo will gradually increase the coverage area to the size of "Greater London", it said, and add more vehicles over time. And though the cars are driverless, they are not entirely without humans, at least for now. Starting now, Waymo's fully self-driving vehicles - the most advanced self-driving vehicles on the road today - are test-driving on public roads, without anyone in the driver's seat. This time, though, he or she will likely be sitting behind the driver's seat. And though it will only be rolling out one city at a time, it seems safe to say that this is the future, for better or worse. 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. "Our ultimate goal is to bring our fully self-driving technology to more cities in the USA and around the world". Once these measures have passed - and other self-driving companies have developed more road-ready systems - fully self-driving test programs could rapidly expand.

Last week, Waymo hosted around 50 journalists for a first-ever look at the company's private testing facility in central California.

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. Developers are still grappling with vehicle performance in snow or heavy rain. "Our radars can see underneath and around vehicles, tracking moving objects usually hidden from the human eye". "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. The industry risks a potential backlash against the technology if Waymo's autonomous vehicles are at fault in a high-profile crash.

In April, Waymo announced it was expanding its fleet of 100 Chrysler minivans by an additional 500 vehicles and a test program - with operators behind the wheel - for families of non-Google employees to learn how people might use autonomous technology in daily life.

The subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet has been testing autonomous cars for years, but with a driver behind the wheel to take over if needed.

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