This week, Waymo debuted a public test of their self-driving cars in the Phoenix metro area with one very important thing missing – a safety driver at the wheel. It’s a bold move for the autonomous car company and a huge milestone for the driverless car industry as a whole. The move makes it clear Waymo is ready to tell the world their cars don’t need a human sitting at the wheel to take over in case of an emergency.
The test rides are being held in Chandler, Arizona (part of the greater Phoenix metro area). What’s different about them is they’re not just limited to specific routes or enclosed zones. The cars are taking passengers anywhere inside a defined space within the city.
And it’s definitely been a long time coming. For years now, Waymo – formerly known as the Google self-driving car project – has been famous for staunchly putting all its focus on perfecting fully autonomous driving technology and skipping over all the intermediary steps of semi-autonomous driving. Rather than launch early and move up the autonomous scale incrementally as Tesla has done, Waymo said from the get-go it believed the safest technology should never expect humans to take over the wheel.
Of course, such a lofty goal called for a huge investment through millions of miles of road tests. Waymo CEO John Krafcik described the monumental effort in a Medium post:
“Since we began as a Google project in 2009, we’ve driven more than 3.5 million autonomous miles on public roads across 20 U.S. cities. At our private test track, we’ve run more than 20,000 individual scenario tests, practicing rare and unusual cases. We’ve multiplied all this real world experience in simulation, where our software drives more than 10 million miles every day. In short: we’re building our vehicles to be the most experienced driver on the road.”
For now, the guinea pigs in the back seats are being limited to Waymo employees. But Krafcik said the tests would expand to include existing members of the Chandler driverless ride hailing service trial which began earlier this year. Ultimately, the tests will expand into a fully functioning driverless ride-sharing service for the area. No tips to the driver necessary.