Alphabet's Waymo to launch robotaxis with no human in driver's seat

Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here

Waymo now testing its self-driving cars on public roads with no one at the wheel

While self-driving auto companies have routinely tested their vehicles on public roads, they usually have a human sitting behind the wheel ready to take over should the autonomous technology fail.

Google has long stated its intent to skip driver-assist systems and go directly to fully autonomous driving. Waymo's cars will initially be limited to a 100-square-mile zone around the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, although that radius should naturally increase as Waymo undertakes more research.

"And soon, members of the public will get to use these vehicles in their daily lives", it added.

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In a speech at the Lisbon Web Summit on Tuesday, Waymo CEO John Krafick said, "We recently surveyed 3,000 adults across the U.S., asking them when they expected to see self-driving vehicles - ones without a person in the driver's seat - on their roads". The Chrysler minivans have a small graphical interface in the back seat, which lets riders watch the driverless course, and buttons to call customer service or pull the vehicle over. But instead of being in the front seat, that employee will likely sit behind the driver's seat.

The subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet has been testing autonomous cars for years, but with a driver behind the wheel to take over if needed.

It will roll out the service to the wider public at a later date, although it did not say when. In a blog post, the company announced that what you see in that video is what you'll be seeing pull up next to you at a traffic light.

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The company began testing self-driving vehicles in Chandler in 2016. It represents a raising of the stakes for the rest of the industry that sees full, Level 4 autonomy, in which a vehicle is capable of driving itself, with no human behind the wheel, in most environments and road conditions, as the ultimate goal.

But this latest move will greatly increase the ambition, and risk, of Waymo's technology - it will eventually cover an area the size of Greater London, the company said. That type of system is actually stipulated by regulators in most areas where autonomous testing is allowed on public roads, but as the technology matures, rules are changing. The stakes are so high that Waymo is now suing ride-hailing company Uber, alleging that one of its former managers stole its trade secrets and took them with him when he joined Uber in 2016 as part of an elaborate scheme. Waymo also announced that it is inviting people to take rides over the next few months to help with these driverless autonomous tests. The testing started October 19 with an automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan in Chandler.

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