Waymo is Offering Robotaxi Pickups in Arizona with No Safety Driver Behind the Wheel
【Summary】After announcing earlier this month that its would remove some safety drivers from its vehicles, Waymo CEO John Krafcik confirmed the company is now offering limited “rider-only” trips in Phoenix, Arizona without a safety driver behind the wheel.
Virtually all of the self-driving cars being tested on public roads in the U.S. have a safety driver behind the wheel ready to take over if something goes wrong. Although some states like Arizona allow the testing of autonomous vehicles without a safety driver present, few companies have actually achieved the goal, with the exception of Waymo.
After announcing earlier this month that its would remove some safety drivers from its vehicles, Waymo CEO John Krafcik confirmed the company is now offering limited "rider-only" trips in Phoenix, Arizona, Reuters reported.
At a dinner with journalists ahead of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Detroit on Sunday, Krafcik said that Waymo is offering a select group of riders fully-autonomous rides in its self-driving vehicles, meaning that there is no safety driver behind the wheel when the vehicle comes to pick them up.
Krafcik did not say when or how quickly Waymo would expand "rider-only" services. Riders that signed up are required to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Waymo's pilot program allows a customer to summon a self-driving minivan on-demand from a smartphone app to run errands, go shopping or whenever they need a ride.
The driverless ride-hailing service is called Waymo One is open to about 1,000 riders via Waymo's "Early Rider Program" which launched in December 2018 using safety drivers behind the wheel.
The pilot is a way for Waymo to collect valuable feedback and suggestions from riders in how they might use the robotaxi service in their daily lives. Eventually the safety drivers will be removed from the rest of the fleet.
Waymo has been mapping roads and testing its self-driving software and hardware on a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Arizona for the past few years. The company aims to launch its commercial robotaxi service soon, becoming the first company to deploy driverless vehicles on public roads.
Waymo spun out of Google's self-driving car project and is considered to be the industry leader in driverless technology. With more than a decade of experience developing autonomous driving technology and the financial backing of parent company Alphabet, Waymo leads the industry in real world miles driven, surpassing ten million miles with its fleet of self-driving minivans and over ten billion more in computer simulation, so its vehicle software is able to handle just about any traffic situation.
Speaking at the event, Krafcik also said that Waymo would consider selling or licensing its autonomous driving technology to automakers that want to offer automated driving as an option, either branded as Waymo or using an automaker's own branding. "Both would be interesting," he said.
Waymo is among dozens of automakers and startup companies testing autonomous driving technology on public roads. Many companies however, have scaled back their efforts after a self-driving vehicle operated by Uber fatally struck a pedestrian in Arizona in March, 2018 while operating autonomously. Uber's software failed to stop the vehicle for the woman crossing the roadway at night.
The incident brought widespread attention to the industry and raised concerns about the safety of self-driving technology. One problem the automated vehicle industry faces is confusion about the terms used to describe the technology, Krafcik said.
Krafcik said that some automated systems available on today's vehicles are not really capable of "self-driving" although they are marketed as such. For example, Tesla' Autopilot is officially defined by the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) as "Level-2" autonomy, or "partial automation," meaning that a human is required to be behind the wheel and ready to take over at all times.
However, Waymo's goal is to provide mobility to all and to develop an autonomous driving system robust enough that it requires no human intervention at all.
"From our perspective at Waymo, a Level 4 vehicle is a vehicle in which you can put a rider who doesn't have a driver's license or vision and they could move from point A to point B," Krafcik said. "If you need a driver's license, you can't call it self-driving."
Earlier this month, the company began mapping streets in Los Angeles, the first steps in preparation to launch autonomous vehicles in the city. Waymo also operates in San Francisco, Calif., Michigan and Florida.
resource from: Reuters
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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