Wednesday, 22 November, 2017

Waymo announces driverless test program in Phoenix, accepting ride hails soon

Waymo now testing its self-driving cars on public roads with no one at the wheel Waymo to take on Uber and Lyft with its fleet of self-driving minivans
Lucas Bell | 08 November, 2017, 01:13

The move by Waymo, which started October 19 with an automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona, is a major step toward vehicles driving themselves without human backups on public roads. During this next phase, Waymo will slowly expand the area it operates in to cover 600 square miles.

Within a "few months", the fully autonomous vans will begin carrying volunteer passengers who are now taking part in a Phoenix-area test that includes use of backup drivers.

In a speech at the Lisbon Web Summit on Tuesday, Waymo CEO John Krafick said, "We recently surveyed 3,000 adults across the United States, asking them when they expected to see self-driving vehicles - ones without a person in the driver's seat - on their roads".

Waymo's stated goal is to ensure safer roads for everyone, and after having spent some time in the fully driverless Pacifica that will be operating in Chandler, I'm more convinced than ever they're on a path to make this happen.

But Waymo, owned by Google parent company Alphabet, said it no longer needed that protection - though at first one of its employees will ride in the back with customers. But experts have said the public should not expect this problem to be solved quickly. "Our system runs thousands of checks on itself every second". (Waymo says that won't always be the case, though.) The cars won't have free rein over Arizona's roads.

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In the year since it spun off from Google, Waymo has moved aggressively to test its cars on public roads. 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.

Self-driving vehicle competition between the auto industry and tech companies is fierce. Vehicles developed by rival Uber - which is locked in a bitter legal fight with Waymo over the technology - has covered more than a million miles and allowed Pittsburgh residents to hitch rides in autonomous vehicles spinning through the Pennsylvania city's streets.

Waymo also announced exactly how the new fully self-driving cars will be deployed: in a new public-facing service program, which sounds a lot like autonomous ride-hailing in the save vein as Uber or Lyft. 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.

The switch to self-driving vehicles is heralded by automakers and tech companies from Silicon Valley to Detroit as a safety measure on public roads.

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