Waymo announces driverless test program in Phoenix, accepting ride hails soon

Waymo to take on Uber and Lyft with its fleet of self-driving minivans

Waymo, the self-driving auto division of Alphabet, announced today that it has begun testing its autonomous vehicles with no human sitting in the driver's seat in Phoenix, Arizona. 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.

While Krafcik has yet to say exactly when Waymo's ride-hailing service will launch, the first metropolitan area where people will be able to order a Waymo is Phoenix, he said. Passengers will initially be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but will eventually travel alone in the robotic auto.

The service marks a major step forward in the development and roll-out of fully autonomous vehicles.

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While a Google employee will still sit in the back seat of Waymo's automated Chrysler Pacifica minivan, the empty driver's seat ramps up competition between the Motor City and Silicon Valley in the race to put fully self-driving cars on the road.

"To have a vehicle on public roads without a person at the wheel, we've built some unique safety features into this minivan". It's hard to understate the importance of this milestone: Waymo is operating at full Level 4 autonomy, sharing public roads with human-driven cars and pedestrians, with no one at the wheel able to take over in case things don't go as planned.

Watch the driverless cars in action below.

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