Economy

Waymo removes the driver from self-driving auto tests in Arizona

Waymo removes the driver from self-driving auto tests in Arizona”

A self-driving auto company created by Google is pulling the human backup driver from behind the steering wheel and will test vehicles on public roads with only an employee in the back seat.

The state of Arizona has no restrictions on self-driving cars.

The tests aren't limited to one or two routes, either; the test area where the truly driverless trials are being conducted in Chandler, Arizona (part of the greater Phoenix metro area), and the cars are able to go anywhere within this defined space.

Previously, Waymo's self-driving cars had been operating with a human sitting in the driver's seat. If this development from Waymo is any indicator, that deadline should be more than doable. Arizona has been particularly welcoming to autonomous auto companies. Until then, members of Waymo's Early Rider program will be the first to ride these fully autonomous vehicles as the company collects more data.

Waymo's cars have driven with an empty front seat on its 91-acre test site in central California, where the company recently hosted reporters.

Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for Navigant Research, says Waymo's tests without a human backup are the first to his knowledge on public roads at normal speeds. But those companies have existing manufacturing capabilities (like the automakers) and rider networks (like Uber) that Waymo lacks.

Public education is one piece of Waymo's strategy. This four control panel is located above them and features a "Pull over" button that will guide the vehicle to a stop and one to lock/unlock the doors. The cars also feature screens that show where the vehicle is headed and what its sensors are seeing, from other cars to pedestrians. Experts have long assumed that such vehicles would not be owned by individuals, but rather be deployed and maintained by large corporate entities. Waymo has partnered with Lyft but hasn't shared details on that deal.

In his speech, Krafcik sketched out a near future where Waymo-powered self-driving vehicles could be deployed for a range of missions, with interiors to match.

Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter.



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