Driverless cars have been gaining a lot of hype as of late. Companies like Uber, Toyota, and Tesla have all been developing autonomous vehicles. However, all public testing of these vehicles has involved a human behind the wheel in the case of an emergency. But Waymo, the autonomous vehicle division of Alphabet, is gearing up to establish a ride-hailing fleet of completely driverless cars, without any driver behind the wheel.
In late October, when Waymo invited reporters to test out their driverless vehicles, the company’s CEO, John Krafcik, declined to comment on when they would begin testing their cars on public roads. The plot twist came when Krafcik announced that Waymo was already testing their driverless cars in Arizona. “Fully self-driving cars are here,” Krafcik said at a tech conference in Lisbon.
And now, Waymo wants to bring these completely driverless cars to the public through ride-hailing and sharing. But, of course there are some caveats. During the initial stages, a Waymo employee will be in the car with the passengers, but not necessarily behind the wheel. Additionally, each vehicle will be confined to a relatively small area, fenced into a 100-square-mile area in a suburb of Phoenix. However, as the cars collect more data and conduct more trips, Waymo hopes to expand the area. Finally, the cars won’t be available to just anyone. The first to experience this new tech will be members of Waymo’s Early Rider program, which was enacted in Phoenix last April.
This surely notes a growing level of confidence by for Waymo, since the company spun off from Google only a little over a year ago. This move raises the stakes for those in the car and tech industries, as this is the first step towards Level 4 autonomy, where a vehicle can drive itself, without a human, in most environments and conditions.
“This is the most advanced vehicle we’ve developed to date,” said Krafcik at the tech conference. “Everything in it is designed and built for full autonomy. Our combination of powerful sensors gives our vehicles a 360-degree view of the world. The lasers can see objects in three dimensions, up to 300 meters away. We also have short range lasers that stay focused close-up to the side of the vehicle. Our radars can see underneath and around vehicles, tracking moving objects usually hidden from the human eye.” The success of Waymo most likely comes from its ability to lean on both Alphabet and Google engineers, as well as its partnerships with companies such as Lyft, Fiat-Chrysler, and Avis.
The next big step is to make their ride-hailing service completely open to the public. While other autonomous vehicle companies are still working with safety drivers, Waymo has abandoned their training wheels in order to rise ahead of the competition. Still can’t believe it? See for yourself below…