Waymo, the former self-driving project that spun out to become a business under Google parent company Alphabet, has become the first company to deploy fully autonomous vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel.
The test without a human in the driver's seat is a first in the United States as large tech companies, big automakers and well-funded startups race to develop fully autonomous cars.
CEO John Krafcik confirmed the program while delivering a speech at a conference in Portugal, with a Waymo blog post shortly following his Tuesday, Nov. 7 remarks.
"Over the next few months, we'll be inviting members of the public to take trips in our fully self-driving vehicles".
In a speech at the Lisbon Web Summit on Tuesday, Waymo CEO John Krafick said, "We recently surveyed 3,000 adults across the U.S., asking them when they expected to see self-driving vehicles - ones without a person in the driver's seat - on their roads".
These cars will drive subscribers to Waymo's Early Rider program within a 100-square-mile area in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb, and there will be a Waymo employee in the vehicle, just not behind the wheel: most likely in the backseat.
Waymo says it has conducted thousands of tests on private tracks and public roads since 2009, including 20,000 unique trials that put the autonomous MPVs through "rare and unusual cases". Developers are still grappling with vehicle performance in snow or heavy rain.
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Waymo did not specify how many cars will be on the roads for the beta program, but described it as a "fleet".
"What is clear, however, is that Waymo has positioned itself as a central player in the space, and one that knows exactly what it wants to be, which can't be said about numerous other companies who have jumped into autonomous technology".
The company said in an October 26 news release it would begin testing its self-driving cars on public roads in the Novi, Michigan area in the "next few weeks".
In the release, Waymo says it will use MI unpredictable winters to "gain additional cold weather experience on public roads" as it fully tests its self-driving systems in different conditions.
The news is the latest sign of how quickly self-driving technology is progressing and a suggestion that from here on out, things will be moving even more quickly, with the self-driving vehicle tech developing exponentially as is characteristic of most tech these days.
MI will become the sixth state where Waymo has tested its self-driving vehicles.
Waymo, the autonomous vehicle division of Google, conducted the tests between 2012 and 2013, says Tech Crunch, when the company planned to introduce a "semi-autonomous" system that could handle multiple driving functions.