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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Waymo announces fully self-driving cars on public roads

Fully self-driving cars are here

A Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo's suite of sensors and radar. AP Photo/Paul Sancya
A Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo's suite of sensors and radar. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Waymo is putting the first self-driving cars on public roads without a safety driver.

The company is going to invite the public in Arizona to use Waymo’s fully self-driving cars.

Waymo wants people to use their cars as you would a normal one, for example to commute to work and taking children kids to school.

This is the first step toward Waymo, and many other competitors, launching a driverless service, which will be an on-demand fleet of self-driving vehicles that are available to the public.

So far, all self-driving cars have had a test driver at the wheel as a backup.

Now, although a Waymo employee will be in the vehicle, they won’t be sat in the front seat. Waymo intends for the cars to get to a stage where no Waymo employee will have to be present at all.

The cars initially will only drive in a 100-square-mile area of the town of Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix but will slowly expand where it can drive.

Speaking at Web Summit, one of the biggest tech events of the year, Waymo CEO John Krafcik outlined his company’s mission: to make it safe and easy for people and things to move around.

“We’re committed to building what we call fully self-driving technology. We like to say: we’re not building a better car, we’re building a better driver,” he told the crowd in Lisbon.

“Unlike driver assist systems, which requires you to monitor the road at all times, and take over driving if the car can’t handle a situation, Waymo will be the driver from the beginning to the end. You won’t be asked to take over. No one is required to be at the wheel. In fact, there doesn’t need to be a person sitting in the driver seat at all,” he explained.

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Before relaunching as Waymo a year ago, the team was previously a part of Google. During that time they experimented with partially autonomous cars that saw the car self-drive during what Mr Krafcik referred to as “the boring parts of driving”, such as on highways and motorways. A human driver would be behind the wheel to take over if needed.

“What we saw was that our testers put too much trust in that technology. They were doing things that made it clear they would not be ready to take over driving if the vehicle asked them to,” said Mr Krafcik, citing an example of one test driver who fell asleep at the wheel.

“That’s why we believe nothing short of full autonomy will do.” he said.

In a video shown to the audience, Waymo team members chose three separate destinations, pressed the car’s start button, and the vehicle did all the rest, choosing what route to take, when to turn, when to yield, and everything in between.

The company intends to expand this to cover the entire Phoenix region, with the aim of introducing fully self-driving technology to more cities in the U.S. and around the world.

Members of the public will get to be driven by an autonomous car “in the next few months”, according to Waymo’s CEO.

The cars have an array of hardware, including a powerful AI compute platform, along with lasers, radars and cameras that we developed entirely in-house.

Waymo say the sensors give the vehicles a 360 degree view of the world.

They have also built-in some unique safety features.

“For example, our system runs thousands of checks on itself every second. With these checks, our systems can instantly diagnose any problem and pull over to a safe stop if needed,” said Mr Krafcik.

In the last eight years, Waymo’s vehicles have driven more than 5 and a half million autonomous kilometers on public roads, across more than 20 cities.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik delivers a speech about self-driving cars at the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon on November 7, 2017. 
Europe's largest tech event Web Summit is held at Parque das Nacoes in Lisbon from November 6 to November 9.  / AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA
Waymo CEO John Krafcik made the announcement at Europe's largest tech event. AFP PHOTO / PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA

Mr Krafcik also outlined his vision for how cars will be used in the future.

Cars are expensive, waste fuel, create pollution and are more often than not used for short periods of time.

“With each car being driven so little, and for what are mostly short trips, Waymo’s technology allows vehicles to be used in a different way. A small fleet of fully self-driving cars could serve an entire community. There are other benefits, too. Parking lots could be transformed into parks; fewer traffic crashes could ease congestion,” suggested the CEO.

He confirmed that Waymo were working on making a commercial service available to the public.

“Getting access will be as easy as using an app; just tap a button and Waymo will come to you, and take you where you want to go. The vehicles will be fully self-driving, so you have your own personal space where you can sit back and relax,” he said.