Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here

08 November, 2017, 01:45 | Author: Lester Mason
  • Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here

On Tuesday, Waymo, the driverless auto unit of Google's parent company, Alphabet, announced that its self-driving cars will no longer use human safety drivers as the company continues to test the vehicles around Arizona suburbs. And though the cars are driverless, they are not entirely without humans, at least for now.

The service will be free at first, but Waymo expects at some point to start charging for rides, a potential way to earn revenue to help offset the steep costs involved in developing the technology.

"Our ultimate goal is to bring our fully self-driving technology to more cities in the US and around the world", John Krafcik, Waymo's chief, said in prepared remarks at a technology conference in Portugal on Tuesday.

Starting now, Waymo's fully self-driving vehicles - our safest, most advanced vehicles on the road today - are test-driving on public roads, without anyone in the driver's seat.

Its driverless prototype has been tested over short journeys on pre-defined routes, including taking a blind man to a doctor's appointment. No date has been released for the launch of the commercial endeavour, but just setting a vague timetable is a change from last week when Gizmodo took a ride in one of Waymo's self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Dubbed Castle after a former air base, the large grounds feature buildings and roads that allow Waymo engineers the ability to repeatedly test new software before deploying the tech on public roads.

"A small fleet of fully self-driving cars could serve an entire community", Mr. Krafcik said.

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The service marks a major step forward in the development and roll-out of fully autonomous vehicles. Most other companies now conducting self-driving tests are only at Level 3, a level that still requires a human operator for some (if not most) situations.

Over time it is expected that self-driving technology could dramatically improve the safety on our roads. It isn't clear the public is willing to surrender control to a computer, and unexpected safety issues could arise in tricky environments, such as snow.

Waymo shared some footage of the fully self-driving Pacificas out on the roads, demonstrating how the vehicles can handle different driving responsibilities like stopping for pedestrians and stoplights, signaling to turn, and more.

But her report said that should not be a reason to delay adoption.

Ditching the human test driver may sound alarming, but it brings Waymo closer to offering a truly autonomous vehicle. That will allow them to be built for very specific tasks, he said - "one for napping, a personal dining room, a mobile office".

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