No safety driver present: fully-autonomous ride-service is here

The race to the fully autonomous race may have been won. Waymo, previously known as Google’s self-driving car and owned by Alphabet, will be launching a no driver, fully autonomous ride-sharing service, similar to Uber.

This announcement comes after successful tests of the vehicles in public roads in Arizona.

The company said that members of the public will be able to ride in its fleet of self-driving Fiat Chrysler Pacifica minivans in the next few months. In the teething period a Waymo employee will sit in the back seat with the passenger, before being phased out entirely.

>See also: Mobility-as-a-service: driverless cars leading the next travel revolution

“Because we see so much potential in shared mobility, the first way people will get to experience Waymo’s fully self-driving technology will be as a driverless service,” said Waymo’s chief executive John Krafcik as he announced the new service at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon.

“To have a vehicle on public roads without a person at the wheel, we’ve built some unique safety features into this minivan. Our system runs thousands of checks on itself every second. With these checks, our systems can instantly diagnose any problems and pull over or come to a safe stop if needed.”


The race for full autonomy in vehicles has arguably been the biggest goal for a range of some of the biggest companies in the world for a few years now. Many have tested autonomous vehicles, but always with a technician in the front.

>See also: How driverless cars create a whole new world for insurers

This news, therefore, and the confidence Waymo has expressed in its self-driving technology is somewhat of a milestone. Competitors will now be in hot pursuit to match this announcement.

Safety first

Self-driving cars, by definition, are expected to dramatically reduce the number of traffic collisions on roads and motorways. However, experts suggest that this safety improvement should be expected over a long period, and not a short time period.

Instead, instances of people being killed in accidents involving self-driving cars will likely increase, argues Nidhi Kalra, leader author on a new study looking at self-driving safety.

>See also: UK Government issues cyber security guidelines for driverless cars

Despite this, she concludes in the report that this should not be a reason to delay self-driving adoption.

“Waiting for highly autonomous vehicles that are many times safer than human drivers misses opportunities to save lives,” the report said.

“It is the very definition of allowing perfect to be the enemy of good.”


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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...