Waymo clears driver’s seat for fully autonomous Arizona tests

(Image courtesy of Waymo)

(Image courtesy of Waymo)

Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project, today announced that it will operate some of its fleet of self-driving vehicles in fully autonomous mode, without anyone in the driver’s seat.

The self-driving vehicles will run on public roads in Phoenix, Arizona, where Waymo has been testing its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans. To date, the vehicles have operated with a test driver at the wheel.

VIDEO: Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here

The driverless service will initially be offered to members of the public already taking part in Waymo’s early rider programme in Phoenix, who have been testing out and giving feedback about its self-driving cars. 

Over time, the company plans to expand its self-driving trial to cover a region larger than Greater London.

As it has built up to testing fully driverless vehicles on public roads, Waymo has been conducting what it calls ‘the world’s longest and toughest ongoing driving test’.

Its vehicles have clocked up more than 3.5 million autonomous miles on public roads, while it has run more than 20,000 tests on a private test track to prepare its vehicles for unusual scenarios they may encounter on the roads.

“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,” said Waymo in a statement announcing its new service.

“Starting now, Waymo’s fully self-driving vehicles — our safest, most advanced vehicles on the road today — are test-driving on public roads, without anyone in the driver’s seat.”

“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.”

To reassure those perhaps hesitant about hailing a self-driving car with no one in the driver’s seat, the company stressed that all of its vehicles have the necessary safety features for full autonomy, including backup steering, braking, computer and power, capable of bringing the vehicle to a safe stop.

However, public interest group Consumer Watchdog criticised Waymo’s announcement, calling on the company to “publicly release key information about its robot cars’ driving records in Arizona before it turns the vehicles loose on Phoenix streets and uses passengers as human guinea pigs”.