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Waymo Applies for California's New Driverless Testing Permit

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【Summary】Waymo, the self-driving arm of Alphabet, has applied to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to test its driverless minivans without anyone in the vehicle. Waymo is the first company to request the new permit.

Eric Walz    Apr 13, 2018 6:00 PM PT
Waymo Applies for California's New Driverless Testing Permit
author: Eric Walz   

Waymo, the self-driving arm of Alphabet, has applied for a permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to test its driverless minivans without anyone in the vehicle. Waymo becomes the first company to apply for the new permit, which allows companies to test autonomous vehicles on public roads beginning on April 2—without a backup driver present.

California's DMV started collecting applications last month that would allow testing of fully driverless vehicles on public roads. So far, only two companies have applied. At the time, the DMV would not reveal the companies that applied for the permit. Today, however, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that it one of the companies is indeed Waymo.

Waymo will begin testing without human safety drivers near its Mountain View headquarters in Silicon Valley. Once testing is established there, it will expand its test area other parts of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Waymo has been at the forefront of autonomous technology. The company started developing self-driving cars back in 2009, long before any other companies. Waymo even designed its own self-driving car for the tests—without a steering wheel.

California's decision to allow testing without human safety drivers comes weeks after one of Uber's autonomous driving Volvo XC90s struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. The incident compelled many companies to suspend their testing, including Uber and Nvidia. Both companies have yet to resume testing as they take a closer look at their autonomous driving software.

However, California's renewed oversight of autonomous testing might help prevent accidents like this from happening again.

Among the requirements by the California DMV for Waymo's driverless testing permit are two-way communications capability with the vehicle, geofencing to ensure the vehicle doesn't leave its predetermined testing zone, as well as security technology to secure the data stream to and from the autonomous vehicle.

In addition, the DMV requires companies to notify specific cities where they plan to operate and submit a law enforcement interaction plan to local police departments. Representatives of some cities that received the notices said they were excited to welcome Waymo's self-driving vehicles.

Unlike Uber, Waymo has an excellent safety record with its autonomous test vehicles and its fleet has driven over 5 million miles in autonomous mode without any major incidents. The company also logged millions more miles in simulation, improving the software along the way. Waymo is planning on launching an autonomous taxi service later this year.

The Chronicle reported that Waymo does not plan on operating its cars remotely but it will remotely monitor them during testing. If one of the cars encounters something it cannot navigate, such as a construction zone, the car will contact Waymo for help recognizing the situation. After human testers give it feedback, the car will then decide how to proceed.


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