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08 November 2017, 01:47 | Gordon Grant
Waymo now testing its self-driving cars on public roads with no one at the wheel
Companies testing autonomous cars typically have a human on hand ready to step in if the auto malfunctions.
There are some caveats, of course. "Our ultimate goal is to bring our fully self-driving technology to more cities in the United States and around the world". With Waymo officially pulling safety driver's from the front seat, the West Coast company is pulling ahead and again threatening to beat Detroit at its own game. And while Waymo's news that fully autonomous cars are here is a big deal, it's a much bigger deal that the company is officially announcing its plans to launch an autonomous taxi service in the metropolitan area of Phoenix following the testing period that's set over the next few months.
Krafcik said Waymo's cars have already driven autonomously the equivalent of 140 times around the globe, and in just the a year ago have driven billions of miles in simulation.
In the year since it spun off from Google, Waymo has moved aggressively to test its cars on public roads. Once these measures have passed - and other self-driving companies have developed more road-ready systems - fully self-driving test programs could rapidly expand.
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But Waymo isn't going it alone. In his speech, Krafcik enumerated the many advantages that Waymo's vehicles have over its competitors. "Everything in it is designed and built for full autonomy". The lasers can see objects in three dimensions, up to 300 meters away.
Waymo brought its driverless cars to Novi last month in a push to test the vehicles in snow, sleet and ice this winter. But the news is a step toward Waymo offering a paid service that competes with ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. "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. "At the same time, this research and development taking place in our community will ultimately make our roads safer and provide new freedom for those unable to drive".
In April, Waymo announced it was expanding its fleet of 100 Chrysler minivans by an additional 500 vehicles and a test program - with operators behind the wheel - for families of non-Google employees to learn how people might use autonomous technology in daily life.
The brain-bending, potentially earth-moving technology that allows self-driving cars to drive themselves has generally come with an asterisk - in the form of an old-fashioned flesh-and-blood driver sitting behind the wheel, just in case. "I look forward to a continued partnership with Waymo as they continue to develop this technology here in Chandler and throughout the region".
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