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

Isaac Cain
November 8, 2017

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.

While self-driving auto companies test their vehicles in public, they routinely have a human in the driver's seat ready to take over if the technology fails. This one, however, may not have anyone in the driver's seat.

Previously road tests have taken place with a person in the driving seat ready to take the wheel. Participants in our early rider program will be amongst the first to experience these fully self-driving rides, using our vehicles to commute to work, take the kids to school, or get home from a night out. The driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans will roam the greater Phoenix area, where Waymo began offering driverless shuttle rides a year ago. And starting very soon, the company plans to invite regular people for rides in these fully self-driving vehicles.

It will roll out the service to the wider public at a later date, although it did not say when. The company picked Phoenix because weather conditions are ideal for testing with no snow and little rain, he said, adding that Waymo knows its system isn't ready yet for inclement weather even with camera, radar and laser sensors.

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

Waymo wouldn't say how many vehicles will be in the initial test or exactly how wide an area it will cover. Eventually it will go to whole metro area.

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The testing will initially be limited to part of Phoenix, Arizona.

The company said it has been testing its autonomous systems for the past eight years with more than 5 million miles logged on public roads.

Last week, US auto retailer AutoNation Inc announced a multiyear partnership for vehicle maintenance and repairs for Waymo's self-driving car operations. The Chrysler minivans have a small graphical interface in the back seat, which lets riders watch the driverless course, and buttons to call customer service or pull the vehicle over.

The brain-bending, potentially earth-moving technology that allows self-driving cars to drive themselves has generally come with an asterisk - in the form of an old-fashioned flesh-and-blood driver sitting behind the wheel, just in case.

Krafick also announced that the company is going to launch a driverless ride-hailing service in the next few months. The testing started October 19 with an automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan in Chandler.

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