Driverless Cab Service to Launch in Arizona

John Lister's picture

Google's sister company has revealed it has sent vehicles driving on Arizona roads with nobody at the wheel. It plans to start using the vehicles as a driverless cab service in the next few months, albeit only with invited test customers.

Waymo chief John Krafcik announced today that the company has been testing the minivans on public roads in fully autonomous mode since October 19. During the tests, both the driver and passenger seats are empty. A Waymo employee sits in the back of the vehicle and can hit an emergency brake button, but otherwise has no control.

It appears to be the first time driverless vehicles have been tested on public roads at a normal driving speed. In tests by other companies, a human has sat in the driver seat with the ability to take over at the wheel if needed. (Source:

Fair Weather Makes Easier Test Ground

That's partly because other states have tighter controls over autonomous vehicle testing. As well as the looser rules, Waymo picked Arizona for testing because it has little rain, snow or fog, both of which are more of a challenge for current self-driving technology.

The next step will be offering rides to some of the 10,000 people who signed up to be test passengers. In the beginning, a Waymo employee will sit beside passengers in the back, but this will eventually be phased out. If the testing goes to plan, Waymo will offer a taxi service where passengers can take a ride to the destination of their choice without a driver on board.

3D Map is Key to System

To start with, the testing program will only allow journeys that are entirely within a designated zone around Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. That's because Waymo's technology is based heavily on creating 3D maps of an area. The cars then use this as a reference point, making it easier to distinguish between fixed objects, such as trees, and things that could move such as vehicles or people.

The vehicles will include seat back-screens that show a combination of the map and live video of the surroundings. These don't serve any practical function, but rather are designed to reassure passengers that the system is working as designed. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Would you ride in a car with no driver and no way of taking the wheel? Is Arizona right to have loose rules on testing to encourage companies to set up operations in the state? Would a serious crash destroy trust in self-driving technology, even if it was far rarer than the collision rate among human drivers?

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scowei's picture

I'd absolutely ride in one. And this is one of the benefits of our system of individual states, the "laboratories of democracy." Or, in this case, a laboratory of commerce and innovation. One state out of 50 was bound to have looser regulations in this area, and you've got to have at least one test case for others to observe.

It's like testing a new drug with a select group of volunteers. Same thing is happening with marijuana legalization...more states coming on board as they see that there is not a wholesale breakdown in order (and lots of tax dollars to be had). Self-driving cabs will spread in time.

buzzallnight's picture

Severe dust storms.

As a computer tech and a shade tree car mechanic

no I would not ride in these
also would not want to own one and have to maintain it.

What happens when there is a
nearby lightning strike?
Flash flood?
Black ice?
Solar storm?
Can this system detect and avoid large animals like deer moose horse cow?

John Lister's picture

Funnily enough, while many of these systems are designed to detect and avoid those animals, one program had to be put on hold in Australia because the cars got confused by kangaroos: whenever they bounced, the camera perspective made it look like it was suddenly shifting from close to far away and back again.

lrusk_3060's picture

I think that driverless cars are in competition for the dumbest idea imaginable. I would not ride in one and I don't think they should be legally permitted to operate on public roads and streets. They may be OK for an amusement park where they operate at low speeds and are wholly preprogrammed, but on public streets they are an accident on its way to the scene.

There are also innumerable legal issues to be dealt with. These include matters of traffic enforcement and traffic violations (Who do you charge? The robotic car, it's owner/operator, or the manufacturer?) Next you have issues of legal responsibility for injury and damage caused by the robot car.

Our legal system for assessment of fault and the recovery of damages is generally based upon concepts of negligently caused injury, or intentional wrongs. The robot vehicle itself cannot be found negligent in the case of injury, death, or property losses it causes. That will bring us to a concept of absolute liability for injury caused by these devices, because if the robot causes injury under circumstances where if a human operator were in control, and found to be negligent, then the designer, manufacturer, and/or owner would have to be considered negligent by operation of law.

I do not want these killing machines to be operating anywhere near me and believe that they should be absolutely barred and that it should be a criminal offense for any person or company to operate one on the public streets.