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No safety driver in Waymo's self-driving vehicle taxi fleet

No safety driver in Waymo's self-driving vehicle taxi fleet

Since Waymo began as a project in Google's "moonshot" lab in 2009, its vehicles have logged more than 5.6 million kilometres of autonomous driving on United States roads, according to the company. "We want the experience of traveling with Waymo to be routine, so you want to use our driver for your everyday needs". Waymo is doing so in a limited region of Phoenix, Ariz., where it is running a pilot program with volunteer passengers. But the even bigger news is that the company is gearing up to launch the first commercial driverless taxi service.

John Krafcik, Waymo CEO and a former Ford Motor Co. executive, announced the move at the Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal on Tuesday. "Fully self-driving cars are here".

While other companies, including Tesla and Google have tested their autonomous driving vehicles on public roads in the past, this is believed to be the first company to do it without someone sitting behind the wheel.

The company also shared some details about the expansion of its pilot program in a blog post. 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. Passengers will initially be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but will eventually travel alone in the robotic auto. Vehicles developed by rival Uber - which is locked in a bitter legal fight with Waymo over the technology - has covered more than a million miles and allowed Pittsburgh residents to hitch rides in autonomous vehicles spinning through the Pennsylvania city's streets. But those companies have existing manufacturing capabilities (like the automakers) and rider networks (like Uber) that Waymo lacks.

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Krafcik said Waymo's cars have already driven autonomously the equivalent of 140 times around the globe, and in just the a year ago have driven billions of miles in simulation. During his appearance at the summit in Lisbon, he also discussed how the vehicles may replace personal auto ownership, an existential fear of the auto industry.

The driver-less future of transportation could be arriving soon in Phoenix.

In time, Mr Krafcik said, those cars would function as a new ride-hailing service.

The company also says it has redundant braking, steering, power and computing systems so it never has to rely on a human driver. They'll be geofenced within a 100-square-mile area of the town of Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix - though Waymo says it plans to expand to areas beyond that as its cars collect more data and conduct more trips.