No safety driver in Waymo's self-driving auto taxi fleet

Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here

Waymo CEO John Krafcik shared the news at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal today.

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. The current passengers for this test are Waymo employees, however, so it's not as if the Alphabet-owned company is throwing caution to the wind; instead, it's showing that it's ready to move to the next major phase of operations after around a decade of working on this incredibly complex problem.

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".

While other companies, including Tesla and Google have tested their autonomous driving vehicles on public roads in the past, this is believed to be the first company to do it without someone sitting behind the wheel.

He said in the next few months, folks "will get to experience these fully self-driving rides" which they will be able to summon via a Lyft-style ride-hailing app. "Our system runs thousands of checks on itself every second".

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He expects General Motors and its Cruise Automation autonomous vehicle unit to be the next to announce testing without human backups, followed by auto parts maker Delphi, which recently acquired Massachusetts Institute of Technology self-driving software startup nuTonomy. "Over time, we'll cover a region that's larger than the size of Greater London, and we'll add more vehicles as we grow", Waymo said in a blog post.

This is all possible in part because Arizona hasn't bothered slapping autonomous cars with heavy regulations in the manner of states like NY, which has allowed - appropriately, considering the location - a "Wild West" approach to testing. Passengers will initially be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but will eventually travel alone in the robotic auto. For eight years, the company has been developing the technology and doing test runs on public roads across 20 U.S. cities.

In April, Waymo announced it was allowing people to ride in the self-driving cars.

Instances of people being killed in accidents involving self-driving cars will likely increase, argued Nidhi Kalra, leader author on a new study looking at self-driving safety. The company also wasn't available to comment on whether Waymo employees will be able to remotely terminate a ride. 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.

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