Waymo's autonomous cars are already on public roads without safety drivers

EnlargeWaymo

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. Those who participated in Waymo's early rider program will be among the first to experience these rides. 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.

Instances of people being killed in accidents involving self-driving cars will likely increase, argued Nidhi Kalra, leader author on a new study looking at self-driving safety. We like to say: "we're not building a better vehicle, we're building a better driver".

According to Waymo, some cars that have already been plying roads in the Phoenix area have now been switched to fully automatic mode - meaning there is no test driver behind the wheel.

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It will roll out the service to the wider public at a later date, although it did not say when. Vehicles developed by rival Uber - which is locked in a bitter legal fight with Waymo over the technology - has covered more than a million miles and allowed Pittsburgh residents to hitch rides in autonomous vehicles spinning through the Pennsylvania city's streets. Ever since April of this year, the company completed extensive testing on the vehicles with the help of human riders to make sure the vehicle stayed safely on its course. The company has partnerships with Fiat-Chrysler, Lyft, and Avis, even while it's manufacturing its own sensors and hardware to reduce dependence on suppliers.

"Everything in [Waymo's autonomous cars] is designed and built for full autonomy", Krafcik said.

Watch the driverless cars in action below. "Our radars can see underneath and around vehicles, tracking moving objects usually hidden from the human eye".

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The service marks a major step forward in the development and roll-out of fully autonomous vehicles. "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.

Waymo competitors, including Uber have said ditching human drivers could remake the economics of taxi services, ridesharing and freight hauling.

Waymo, the driverless auto arm of parent company Alphabet, revealed the "next phase" of the project, which is one of the most developed in autonomous vehicle in the world.

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But those tests typically require a human driver to be present and take over in case there is an emergency.

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