Waymo Announces Driver-Free AV Testing in Arizona

The Alphabet subsidiary has been testing the technology without the use of a safety driver in Chandler, Ariz., since mid-October.

by Aaron Aupperlee, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review / November 8, 2017
Courtesy Waymo (Facebook)

(TNS) -- Waymo surged ahead in the race to develop self-driving cars with a fleet of autonomous minivans that operate without a safety driver behind the wheel.

The fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans have been testing without a driver since mid-October, John Krafcik, CEO of the self-driving arm of Google's parent company, Alphabet, announced Tuesday during a speech at a tech conference in Lisbon.

"It's not happening in 2020, it's happening today," Krafcik said, according to a copy of his speech Waymo provided to the Tribune-Review.

Waymo has been testing the cars in Chandler, Arizona, near Phoenix.

Most companies, both startups and legacy automakers, have set target dates of 2020 and beyond to put large numbers of autonomous vehicles capable of driving without a safety driver on the road.

In its tests of the driverless car, a Waymo employee sat in a passenger seat behind the front seats.

Krafcik said Waymo will open up rides to the public in the next few months and will eventually launch a driverless ride-hailing service.

Waymo has been testing self-driving cars longer than most other companies. Uber, however, beat Google to widespread deployment of self-driving cars for ride-hailing when it rolled out its pilot program in Pittsburgh last year. Uber still has a safety driver behind the wheel during its tests in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Arizona. Pennsylvania law requires a licensed driver behind the wheel of any car, autonomous or not.

Uber declined to comment on whether it would take the safety driver out of its cars on the heels of Waymo's announcement. The company announced in September that it would take the co-driver out of the front passenger seat of its autonomous Volvo SUVs.

©2017 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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