Waymo pulls engineer from driver's seat on public roads

Posted November 08, 2017

Waymo executives see removing the human backstop as a natural part of the evolution of their rigorous technology - and as a vital step in finally tapping all the commercial and social benefits they and other advocates of autonomous driving promise. Passengers will initially be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but will eventually travel alone in the robotic auto. But experts have said the public should not expect this problem to be solved quickly.

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. Skeptics also say federal regulators have not done enough to set basic safety standards for technology firms or vehicle companies to meet.

"Soon, they'll be able to make these trips in a fully self-driving vehicle, with Waymo as their chauffeur", said Krafcik. These vehicles could be designed for specific tasks. People could claim the cars for a day, a week "or even longer", he said. "One (vehicle) for napping, a personal dining room, a mobile office, or a vehicle just for when moving into your new place".

This new phase of testing comes after a decade of working on the technology and 3.5 million miles driven.

The company began testing self-driving vehicles in Chandler in 2016. 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. For instance, Waymo has touted its vans' automatic sliding doors, meaning the taxi won't be stuck if a passenger forgets to shut a door.

But it most certainly signals a growing level of confidence by Waymo, and, by extension, Alphabet, in the technology developed by its engineers over the last eight years. Riders were greeted inside by screens in the back seat with instructions to push a blue start button on the ceiling. Google was awarded a patent in July for a system that enables self-driving vehicles to find pickup and drop-off spots. One image shows the smartphone app telling the rider that the auto "could not find a safe place to stop".

Waymo engineers are hoping to make riders feel more comfortable with using self driving cars with the addition of an array of buttons that can call for live help, ask the vehicle to pull over and start the ride.

"Waiting for highly autonomous vehicles that are many times safer than human drivers misses opportunities to save lives", the report concluded. With Waymo officially pulling safety driver's from the front seat, the West Coast company is pulling ahead and again threatening to beat Detroit at its own game.