Fully autonomous cars are here! Alphabet-Waymo cars have no safety-driver
While autonomous car companies are testing self-driving cars with a safety-driver behind the wheel to take control in case of problems, Alphabet's Waymo is set to launch robotaxis that are actually driverless: zero human interference! Waymo's decision to go fully driverless shows it has enough confidence in its technology. CEO John Krafcik said Waymo's services would be launched in Arizona's Phoenix in coming months.
Waymo employee to be present in the car
Waymo said it no longer needs safety drivers; however, an employee would ride with customers but not behind the steering-wheel. It demonstrated fully-self-driving cars on public roads even in the past. Its autonomous prototype was tested on pre-defined routes. It also took a blind man to a doctor's appointment. Waymo cars would operate in an area the size of Greater London, in Arizona.
Google's industry-leading efforts in autonomy field
Waymo, owned by Google parent company Alphabet, is an autonomous carmaker created under Google's self-driving program. Until now, Waymo cars have driven over 5.63mn kilometers (on-road testing) on the US public roads under different scenarios. However, unlike other autonomous carmakers like Tesla, Waymo cars haven't been used for commercial purposes. Waymo didn't make any money on the expensive, nearly decade-long investment, so far.
Potential in shared mobility
Speaking at the recent Web Summit conference, Waymo CEO Krafcik said: "Because we see so much potential in shared mobility, the first way people will get to experience Waymo's fully self-driving technology will be as a driverless service (sharing public-roads with regular vehicles and pedestrians)."
Waymo to initially offer services for free
Waymo's first passengers would take part in its Phoenix trial via a ride-hailing app and travel in Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivans. An employee would accompany them, but eventually, passengers would travel alone. Waymo's self-driving taxi fleet would be free to use, but it would start charging customers later. Going commercial -riders hailing its minivans via apps- would be a huge step for Waymo.
Waymo services to be rolled out to wider public
Krafcik said, "People will get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles, to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, or run errands." Waymo said the services would later be introduced for the wider public, but it didn't reveal when.
Issue of road safety cannot be solved quickly: Experts
Waymo's idea of launching fully-autonomous taxis is exciting. But experts say it would increase safety risk though self-driving vehicles are expected to improve road safety over time. Nidhi Kalra, lead author of a "self-driving safety" study, argued fully-driverless cars would increase instances of people dying in accidents involving autonomous vehicles. Kalra's report, however, says safety risk shouldn't be a reason for delaying self-driving adoption.
Nidhi Kalra's report on self-driving safety
Nidhi Kalra's report concluded: "Waiting for highly autonomous vehicles that are many times safer than human drivers misses opportunities to save lives. It is the very definition of allowing perfect to be the enemy of good."