Over the next few months, the company's fleet of autonomous cars in Phoenix will start driving without a person at the wheel in a confined geographic area.
That's right: people will be able to ride in a completely driverless vehicle for the first time.
The driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans will roam the greater Phoenix area, where Waymo began offering driverless shuttle rides a year ago. The Waymo employee in the back seat won't be able to steer the minivan, but like all passengers, will be able to press a button to bring the van safely to a stop if necessary, Waymo said. When the auto arrives at its destination, the screen reads "We're here", according to Business Insider's Troy Wolverton, who took a test ride in one of the Chrysler minivans in October.
"Because you're accessing vehicles rather than owning, in the future, you could choose from an entire fleet of vehicle options that are tailored to each trip you want to make", he said. "Fully self-driving cars are here".
Around 10,000 residents applied for the program, which provides free access to a self-driving Pacifica for daily needs typically handled by a personal vehicle, ranging from meetings to kids' soccer games.
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Waymo said the vehicles are equipped with safety features like backup steering and braking to ensure the rides go smoothly. While self-driving auto companies have routinely tested their vehicles on public roads, they usually have a human sitting behind the wheel ready to take over should the autonomous technology fail.
Waymo has already been conducting tests in Phoenix allowing some residents to ride in its self-driving vehicles as part of its "early riders" program.
Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for Navigant Research, says Waymo's tests without a human backup are the first to his knowledge on public roads at normal speeds.
Following eight years of development and an ongoing public awareness campaign, Waymo's self-driving cars are now transporting passengers without a human behind the wheel. The technology on the cars still faces challenges in certain conditions like snow and rain, which is one reason why the initial pilot project is taking place in Arizona.
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