Waymo — formerly the Google self-driving car project — is taking the self-driving to another level, when it announced to do away with “safety drivers” and launch full-fledged driverless vehicles.
The autonomous car company will chauffeur people in minivans, initially in a limited region of Phoenix, without any driver manning the steering wheel.
According to experts, the move, a first for any company, is a major milestone for the internet giant’s bid to lead the crowded pack trying to commercialize driverless technology.
“We want the experience of traveling with Waymo to be routine, so you want to use our driver for your everyday needs,” John Krafcik, Waymo’s chief executive officer, said at the Web Summit conference in Portugal. “Fully self-driving cars are here.”
He added that Waymo service will arrive soon, allowing people to hail the cars with a mobile app, similar to services like Uber and Lyft. Waymo has partnered with Lyft but hasn’t shared details on that deal.
At the summit, he also discussed how the vehicles may replace personal car ownership, an existential fear of the car industry.
“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. People could claim the cars for a day, a week or even longer,” said Krafcik.
Waymo’s driverless cars will roll out in selected areas of Chandler, Arizona, a Phoenix suburb. In his speech, Krafcik said the test without drivers will soon expand to the entire metropolitan Phoenix area.
Last month, Google parent firm Alphabet announced the investment of $1 billion in ride-hailing platform Lyft.
The latest investment was aimed to help Lyft go aggressive in many markets, where Uber has market lead. However, it is surprising for many as Alphabet backed Uber earlier. Uber also got an infusion of about $250 million from Google in 2013, earning Google’s David Drummond a seat on Uber’s board.