A milestone for autonomous vehicle technology was noted in Arizona this week, according to a Waymo blog post on Tuesday. Waymo, Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) own autonomous vehicle company is testing driverless vehicles on public roads in Phoenix without a safety driver behind the wheel for the very first time.
While other companies have tested their autonomous driving vehicles on public roads in the past, this is believed to be the first instance of one doing so without someone sitting behind the wheel. Of course, Waymo is still being watched by an employee in the vehicle (in the backseat or passenger seat) in case of an emergency.
From the company’s blog post:
“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. To date, Waymo vehicles have been operating on public roads with a test driver at the wheel. Now, in an area of the Phoenix metro region, a subset of our fleet will operate in fully autonomous mode, with Waymo as the sole driver. Over time, we’ll cover a region that’s larger than the size of Greater London, and we’ll add more vehicles as we grow.”
This testing started last month and in the released video (below), you can see passengers in the back seat taking a ride while a Waymo minivan takes the wheel through city and residential streets. Reports speculate the location is a good one because Arizona is quite lacking in unpredictable weather patterns and precipitation, which can make driving more difficult for computers and their sensors.
Waymo says they prepared for this test after putting vehicles through rigorous testing beginning in 2009. Waymo vehicles have now driven 3.5 million miles autonomously on public roads in 20 different U.S. cities. The company also announced an invitation for people to take rides over the next few months to help with these driverless, autonomous tests. You can sign up to be an “early rider” here. These early riders will may take these cars to work, school, or even home from a night on the town.
In terms of safety, Waymo says it has redundant backup computers that take over in the event the main one fails. They also mention that the the system has a deep understanding of the geographic areas and driving conditions based on location, as well as intuitive software that clues passengers to what’s happening on the road. The system also allows passengers to ask questions from Waymo’s rider support team. Waymo’s full safety report can be read here.
Will you be signing up to ride in a Waymo any time soon? Let us know your thoughts on this story in the comments.
Via: NYT, Verge