Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here


While a Google employee will still sit in the back seat of Waymo's automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the empty driver's seat ramps up competition between the Motor City and Silicon Valley in the race to put fully self-driving cars on the road.

Self-driving vehicle company Waymo has said it is confident enough in its technology to ditch the human safety driver and open up its fleet to the public.

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Waymo executives see removing the human backstop as a natural part of the evolution of their rigorous technology - and as a vital step in finally tapping all the commercial and social benefits they and other advocates of autonomous driving promise.

The outfitted Chrysler Pacific minivans still have employees in the auto, but they are no longer at the wheel, instead in the back seat where they can only push a button to pull over the vehicle.

The California DMV recently proposed a set of rule changes that would allow for companies to test fully autonomous vehicles on public roads, which followed new federal guidelines for self-driving vehicles that passed through the House of Representatives and now await a vote in the Senate.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced the fully driverless trials at Web Summit today, and revealed the video above, and also noted that while the trial is starting with employees first, it's soon going to expand to the existing members of the Chandler driverless ride hailing service trial that Waymo kicked off at the beginning of 2017.

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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. Save for the passengers inside, a subset of the company's self-driving cars will operate by themselves on public roads in the Phoenix metro region, Waymo announced on Tuesday.

Dozens of companies are testing self-driving technology on public roads across the United States and some autonomous features are available in today's cars.

The new rides are a major test for Waymo's technology, which has proved to be largely error-free in eight years.

During a demonstration last week, Waymo gave rides to reporters on a closed course that included citylike scenarios. "Because they no longer have to be designed around a driver, just people", Krafcik said.

Some of these users will be picked up over the coming months with an empty driver's seat.

The company began testing self-driving vehicles in Chandler in 2016.

Ditching the human test driver may sound alarming, but it brings Waymo closer to offering a truly autonomous vehicle.