Waymo's Automous Cars Are Coming to US Roads—Without Human Safety Operators

By Bryan Menegus on at

Drivers in the US state of California might want to watch out—Alphabet-owned autonomous vehicle firm Waymo won the right from the California DMV yesterday to deploy its cars to the cities of Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto, without the characteristic human safety operators that have been a hallmark of AV testing.

In a company blog post, Waymo noted that “it’s the first time that California has allowed tests on public roads of fully driverless cars ― that is, without a test driver sitting in the driver’s seat,” and elaborated that the permit includes day and night testing, on a variety of road types at speeds up to 65 mph. “Our vehicles can safely handle fog and light rain,” Waymo writes, suggesting the permit does not cover other forms of inclement weather. We’ve reached out to Waymo for clarification and further details on its rollout to these cities.

Self-driving and semi-autonomous vehicles have been involved in a number of heavily-scrutinised crashes over the years in the US, including fatal autopilot incidents from Uber in Tempe, Arizona, and Tesla in Mountain View, California.

Though this permit allows Waymo’s cars to amble around without a human operator to take control, initial passengers won’t be members of the public. “Our first driverless rides will be for members of the Waymo team,” the post states, also claiming that “if a Waymo vehicle comes across a situation it doesn’t understand, it [...] comes to a safe stop until it does understand how to proceed.”