Waymo's Moment of Glory: Self-Driving Minivans Now 100% Automated



It completed its first successful test of a ride-hailing service two years ago, when it ferried a blind man in the Austin, Texas, area, and has since been testing its service with engineers in the front seats of its vehicles.

Waymo's vehicles will now be able to take people who signed up to be early testers of the service anywhere in the greater Phoenix area, which the company says will soon comprise an area larger than that of Greater London. Waymo's cars will initially be limited to a 100-square-mile zone around the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, although that radius should naturally increase as Waymo undertakes more research. He ticked off the ways driverless cars could be redesigned if the vehicle didn't need space for a driver: to ferry groceries, as a "personal dining room" or for naps. Neither Krafcik nor the company's reps shared exactly what has given the company the confidence to declare their vehicles "fully" self-driving, but it appears that Waymo has achieved Level 4 autonomy, which means the auto can handle every aspect of the driving experience on its own without need for human intervention.

In the year since it spun off from Google, Waymo has moved aggressively to test its cars on public roads. That type of system is actually stipulated by regulators in most areas where autonomous testing is allowed on public roads, but as the technology matures, rules are changing. The company has partnerships with Fiat-Chrysler, Lyft, and Avis, even while it's manufacturing its own sensors and hardware to reduce dependence on suppliers. Developers are still grappling with vehicle performance in snow or heavy rain. The lasers can see objects in three dimensions, up to 300 meters away.

Waymo's stated goal is to ensure safer roads for everyone, and after having spent some time in the fully driverless Pacifica that will be operating in Chandler, I'm more convinced than ever they're on a path to make this happen. "Our radars can see underneath and around vehicles, tracking moving objects usually hidden from the human eye".

The Silicon Valley company is accelerating the competition to bring the first fully autonomous vehicle to market.

Over time it is expected that self-driving technology could dramatically improve the safety on our roads. "People will get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles, to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, or run errands", Krafcik said. "Getting access will be as easy as using an app; just tap a button and Waymo will come to you, and take you where you want to go".

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