Waymo Makes History: A Self-Driving Ride Service With No One Behind the Wheel
【Summary】Waymo has been working on self-driving cars since at least 2009 and leads its competitors in the crowded field of self-driving cars development. Now, the company will become the first ever to launch a ride hailing service on public roads without anyone behind the wheel.
Waymo has been working on self-driving cars since at least 2009, and leads its competitors in the crowded field of autonomous driving technology. Now, the company will become the first ever to launch a ride hailing service on public roads without anyone behind the wheel.
Waymo announced on Tuesday that its self-driving software is good enough to remove the safety drivers from the vehicles in its pilot ride-hailing program—a fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
"The vehicles will be fully self-driving," said Waymo CEO John Krafcik. "So you have your own personal space where you can sit back and relax." While Krafcik has yet to say exactly when Waymo's ride-hailing service will launch, the first metropolitan area where people will be able to order a Waymo robotic chauffeur is Phoenix, he said.
Speaking at the Web Summit Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said that company technicians are already hailing its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in and around Phoenix via a mobile app and leaving it to the artificial intelligence operating the vehicles to figure out how to get to requested destinations. Within a few months, Waymo vans loaded with laser LiDAR, radar, cameras, computers and no human safety drivers will pick up passengers registered in its "Early Riders" program.
"We're now working on making this a commercial service available to the public. People will get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, or run errands," Krafcik said. "Getting access will be as easy as using an app; just tap a button and Waymo will come to you, and take you where you want to go."
During his speech, Krafcik played a video of Waymo vans operating in suburban Phoenix with no one at the wheel. It "marks the start of a new phase for Waymo and the history of this technology," he said.
Other automakers and tech companies are testing self-driving technology on public roads. The state of California requires a special DMV permit to test autonomous technology, which was granted to 43 companies so far, including Uber, BMW, Tesla, and GM backed Cruise Automation. However, the permit stipulates that a human driver must be behind the wheel to take manual control of the vehicle if necessary.
Waymo largely shifted its testing from California to Arizona amid frustrations with the state's slow progress toward embracing autonomous vehicles. In Phoenix, no such restrictions exist, allowing Waymo the freedom to test and perfect its autonomous technology without safety drivers.
"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. The most common answer? 2020," Krafcik said."It's not happening in 2020, it's happening today."
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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