Driverless taxis are almost a reality.
Waymo — the autonomous car unit of Google parent-company Alphabet — has just unveiled plans to start chauffeuring people in its self-driving Chrysler minivans.
Speaking at a Web Summit conference in Portugal, Waymo CEO John Krafcik, said its driverless vehicles would be rolled out in Phoenix, Arizona, where a trial program with volunteer passengers is already underway.
“We want the experience of traveling with Waymo to be routine, so you want to use our driver for your everyday needs,” Mr Krafcik said. “Fully self-driving cars are here.”
The company said it planned to use the driverless vehicles in a ride-hailing service for the general public.
While many companies are testing autonomous cars on public roads, Waymo is understood to be the first to do so without employing a "safety driver" to sit-in in case of an emergency.
According to the New York Times, Waymo published a report for California’s Department of Motor Vehicles about how frequently its vehicles forced a safety driver to take the wheel because of a system failure or safety risk, and the company claimed this happened once every 5,000 miles the cars drove in 2016, compared with once every 1,250 miles in 2015.
It is installed with a back-up computer ready to take over if the main system fails.
Mr Krafcik believes it will change the face of the auto-industry.
“Because you’re accessing vehicles rather than owning, in the future, you could choose from an entire fleet of vehicle options that are tailored to each trip you want to make,” he said.
Consumer Watchdog said the data from Waymo's published report demonstrates that the cars are not ready to ferry passengers without human intervention.
“It’s the wrong approach when you’re dealing with self-driving cars,” said John M. Simpson, a director at Consumer Watchdog.
“When things go wrong with a robot car, you kill people.”
When things go wrong with a robot car, you kill people
The state authority
The Times says Arizona does not have laws prohibiting autonomous vehicles without a person in the driver’s seat, and the government is even encouraging the development of the technology.
Timothy Tait, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, is of the opinion that driverless vehicles could prove to be a safer option.
“We are closely monitoring emerging technologies like self-driving cars that may ultimately support safer travel and open up opportunities for populations who today are unable to drive for themselves,” he said in a statement.