Google’s autonomous car division Waymo is claiming a ‘world-first’ as it steps up the progress of bringing driverless cars to the roads by starting a trial of driverless minivans on public roads in Arizona.
Speaking at Lisbon’s Web Summit yesterday (7 November), Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik revealed that the trial had been live since mid-October and is a “significant step” as it marks the first trial without a safety driver or human sat behind the wheel in case something goes wrong.
The cars won’t have complete access to Arizona’s roads, with the Waymo driverless vehicles geofenced within a 100-square-mile area within the town of Chandler. However, once the trial has more driving data it plans to move outside the area and into other US states.
Krafcik said the trial represents full Level 4 autonomy – a certification awarded when a vehicle is capable of driving itself in versatile environments and road conditions with no human behind the wheel. He told the crowd: “Nothing short of full autonomy will do for Waymo as we want to solve the huge issue of 94% of crashes in America being the result of human error.
“We’ve created a driver that never gets drunk, never gets tired and never gets distracted. We believe we’ve built the world’s safest and most experienced driver, which can take anyone or anything from point A to point B.”
According to Krafcik, Waymo’s cars have a 360-degree view of the world and can see in 3D up to 300 metres away. The cars have radars that can see underneath and around other vehicles, enabling them to track objects hidden from the human eye.
He says the company has virtually driven 16 billion kilometres as it successfully tests scenarios from a dog coming off its lead to another car performing a dangerous turn. In each case, he claimed the Waymo vehicles slowed down and avoided any issues.
The ultimate goal is for Waymo to become a commercial ride-hailing service such as Uber, but one with protecting the environment at its core. Krafcik concluded: “Our small fleet of self-driving cars can serve the whole community. We want to turn parking lots into parks.
“This tech can fulfill the possibility of shared mobility. We want to sell personal vehicles but also ride hailing and public transportation services as well.”
Google’s quest to rule the roads has only just begun.