In Brief

Google’s Waymo successfully trials autonomous car without safety driver

Company plans to launch driverless ride-hailing service in near future

Google offshoot Waymo has put its self-driving cars on US roads without a human behind the wheel, The Verge  reports. 

The success of the trials, in Arizona, marks an “important milestone” for the autonomous vehicle firm, the website says, which now “plans to invite regular people for rides in these fully self-driving vehicles” in the near future. 

The company will initially roll out its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica MPVs (multi-purpose vehicles) to the public with a Waymo employee on board to “travel with the customers”, says BBC News

However, there will not be a safety driver behind the wheel “as has been the case previously”, says the news site.

Speaking at the Lisbon Web Summit, company chief John Krafcik  said that Waymo is “now working on making this commercial service available to the public”, reports Fortune.

“People will get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles, to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, or run errands,” Krafcik added.

Waymo says it has conducted thousands of tests on private tracks and public roads since 2009, including 20,000 unique trials that put the autonomous MPVs through “rare and unusual cases”.

But it hasn’t been an easy ride for the company. Last month, The Daily Telegraph revealed that Waymo ditched early trials of its self-driving cars as some of the company’s test drivers “fell asleep” behind the wheel.

The newspaper also said there were cases of test drivers applying make-up while the car was in its autonomous mode, while some were seen “hunting for cables and electronic devices”.

Google ‘shut down’ self-driving car tests over sleeping drivers

31 October

Google ditched early tests of its self-driving cars after some of its test drivers “fell asleep” behind the wheel, reports The Daily Telegraph.

During the early phases of trialling the company's autonomous systems, the newspaper says, test drivers were “falling asleep at the wheel while at 55mph on a motorway.”

There were also cases of drivers applying makeup at the wheel, the paper adds, while some were found to be “hunting for cables and electronic devices” in the vehicle’s cabin.

Waymo, the autonomous car division of Google, conducted the tests between 2012 and 2013, says Tech Crunch, when the company planned to introduce a “semi-autonomous” system that could handle multiple driving functions. 

The company’s chief, John Krafcik, told the website: “we shut down this aspect of the project a couple of days after seeing that.”

“The better you make the driver assist technologies, the more likely the human behind the wheel is to fall asleep and then when the vehicle says 'hey I need you to take over', they lack contextual awareness”, he added.

While most car manufacters' aim to create autonomous vehicles that can do all the driving, the majority still require drivers to remain alert and hold the wheel in case a dangerous situation occurs. 

This has led Waymo to focusing more on level four and five driverless systems, says Tech Crunch, which sees the vehicle handle every aspect of driving by itself. 

“The technology has seen one driver killed at the wheel of a Tesla Model S”, The Daily Telegraph says, although there have been many more cases of autonomous systems helping drivers avoid road accidents.

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