Look, ma! No hands! Waymo to test true self-driving cars in US with Uber-style hailing app

Super Cali goes – oh no, wait, this is Arizona

Google stablemate Waymo has begun testing its self-driving cars on the mean streets of Phoenix, Arizona, without a single driver at the wheel.

The organization ultimately wants people to request these fully autonomous vehicles on demand from an app, Uber-style.

Chief exec John Krafcik today told the WebSummit conference in Lisbon, Portugal, that the robo-ride biz has let a fleet of its software-controlled cars loose in a patch of the US desert state with no humans at the controls. The vehicles do not travel on predetermined routes nor on a demo loop, and are fully driverless, we're told.

Right now, it appears they have someone inside during trips – either a passenger, a Waymo engineer, or both – but it's hoped they can be truly human-free in the near future.

These tests are possible thanks to Arizona allowing true robo-rides on its streets, amid the gradual relaxing of rules on computer-controlled vehicles across America. This is all in a bid to foster development and keep the nation ahead of the rest of the world in self-driving technology.

"Over time, we’ll expand to cover the entire Phoenix region – an area much larger than Greater London," said Krafcik. "Our ultimate goal is to bring our fully self-driving technology to more cities in the US and around the world."

He said in the next few months folks "will get to experience these fully self-driving rides" by summoning them via a Lyft-style ride-hailing app. In a statement, the team expanded on this, explaining:

... the first application of our fully self-driving technology will be a Waymo driverless service. Over the next few months, we’ll be inviting members of the public to take trips in our fully self-driving vehicles. Participants in our early rider program will be amongst the first to experience these fully self-driving rides, using our vehicles to commute to work, take the kids to school, or get home from a night out. When fully self-driving vehicles become part of people’s everyday routine, we can move closer to our goal of making transportation safe and easy for everyone.

"Since the beginning of this year, our early riders have been using our fleet — with a test driver at the wheel — to go to work, school, soccer practice and more. Soon, they’ll be able to make these trips in a fully self-driving car, with Waymo as their chauffeur," said Krafcik.

Two years ago, the biz completed a fully self-driving trip on public roads, when a blind man traveled from a park to a doctor’s office without anyone in the driver’s seat. We're told a Waymo engineer will be present during early tests of the biz's ride-hailing app service, and will eventually leave passengers alone with the robo-rides during their journeys. There will be an emergency stop button for a passenger to hit, just in case.

Apparently, the Alphabet-owned biz stopped developing a feature that required drivers to take control in dangerous moments because test drivers kept dozing off behind the wheel; instead, it's hoped, the code will take care of such situations automatically. Waymo insists its technology is safe. ®

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