Alphabet's Waymo to launch robotaxis with no human in driver's seat

Waymo's fully self-driving cars are here

In a speech at the Lisbon Web Summit on Tuesday, Waymo CEO John Krafick said, "We recently surveyed 3,000 adults across the United States, asking them when they expected to see self-driving vehicles - ones without a person in the driver's seat - on their roads". Starting now, Waymo's fully self-driving vehicles - the most advanced self-driving vehicles on the road today - are test-driving on public roads, without anyone in the driver's seat.

But Waymo, owned by Google parent company Alphabet, said it no longer needed that protection - though at first one of its employees will ride in the back with customers. Once these measures have passed - and other self-driving companies have developed more road-ready systems - fully self-driving test programs could rapidly expand. We're told a Waymo engineer will be present during early tests of the biz's ride-hailing app service, and will eventually leave passengers alone with the robo-rides during their journeys.

Waymo chief executive John Krafcik used the Web Summit in Lisbon to announce a portion of its fleet in the Phoenix area will operate in fully autonomous mode with the cars handling all the driving.

It will roll out the service to the wider public at a later date, although it did not say when.

Phoenix has very consistent sunny weather and wide roads. 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 is all possible in part because Arizona hasn't bothered slapping autonomous cars with heavy regulations in the manner of states like NY, which has allowed - appropriately, considering the location - a "Wild West" approach to testing. That type of system is actually stipulated by regulators in most areas where autonomous testing is allowed on public roads, but as the technology matures, rules are changing. Passengers will initially be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but will eventually travel alone in the robotic vehicle. The stakes are so high that Waymo is now suing ride-hailing company Uber, alleging that one of its former managers stole its trade secrets and took them with him when he joined Uber in 2016 as part of an elaborate scheme.

For now, you'll also have to be a member of Waymo's Early Rider program to join in on the fun, and you'll also still have to deal with a Waymo employee hanging out in the auto with you.

Krafick also announced that the company is going to launch a driverless ride-hailing service in the next few months.

Members of the public will be riding in Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

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