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Waymo Announces 'Fully Self-Driving Cars Are Here,' Taxi Service Coming

08 November 2017

Starting now, Waymo's fully self-driving vehicles - the most advanced self-driving vehicles on the road today - are test-driving on public roads, without anyone in the driver's seat.

"What you're seeing now marks the start of a new phase for Waymo and the history of this technology", Waymo CEO John Krafcik told an audience at Web Summit in Lisbon Tuesday, according to a draft of remarks provided to USA TODAY.

Waymo, the autonomous auto company from Google's parent company Alphabet, has started testing a fleet of self-driving vehicles without any backup drivers on public roads, its chief executive officer said Tuesday.

Waymo is a company created out of Google's self-driving programme, and was seen as a way to step up efforts to commercialise the firm's industry-leading efforts in autonomy. Passengers will initially be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but will eventually travel alone in the robotic auto.

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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".

Waymo on Tuesday (Nov 7) said that its self-driving cars are hitting the road without anyone behind the wheel as the Alphabet subsidiary steers toward launching an automated ride service.

Waymo did not specify how many cars will be on the roads for the beta program, but described it as a "fleet".

It completed its first successful test of a ride-hailing service two years ago, when it ferried a blind man in the Austin, Texas, area, and has since been testing its service with engineers in the front seats of its vehicles. But experts have said the public should not expect this problem to be solved quickly. "You could take these vehicles for one ride, for a day, for a week, or even longer".

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Initially, the driverless vans will be confined to a small area of metro Phoenix, with the goal of opening it up to the roughly 100-square-mile area already being tested with humans at the wheel and eventually to the entire metro area, which is larger than London. "One for napping; a personal dining room; a mobile office; or a vehicle just for when moving into your new place", he said. But unlike other companies working this kind of technology, such as Tesla, Waymo's products have not had a commercial application, and therefore, were making no money back on what has been an almost-decade-long, expensive investment.

During a demonstration last week, Waymo gave rides to reporters on a closed course that included citylike scenarios.

The company began testing self-driving vehicles in Chandler in 2016. Arizona, like many states, has no restrictions against operating an autonomous vehicle without a person in the driver's seat.

The news also signals Waymo's confidence that its vehicles are safe enough to operate without a test driver.

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Waymo Announces 'Fully Self-Driving Cars Are Here,' Taxi Service Coming