Waymo receives first permit to test fully driverless cars in California

Waymo’s plan for a robot-taxi service has just taken another big step forward after the company became the first in California to receive approval for testing fully driverless cars on the state’s roads.

It announced the news on Tuesday, October 30, after the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) gave it the green light to test its self-driving cars without the need for a safety driver.

In a blog post, the autonomous-car unit of Google parent Alphabet said it will start off by testing its vehicles in the streets around Mountain View, California, close to its headquarters.

“Waymo’s permit includes day and night testing on city streets, rural roads, and highways with posted speed limits of up to 65 miles per hour,” the team said in the post.

It added that its permit also allows for driving in fog and light rain, conditions that its autonomous cars can already comfortably handle.

In a bid to reassure local drivers that safety is its top priority, Waymo said that should one of its driverless vehicles come across a situation that it’s unable to comprehend, it will do “what any good driver would do: Come to a safe stop until it does understand how to proceed. For our cars, that means following well-established protocols, which include contacting Waymo fleet and rider support for help in resolving the issue.”

Slow take-up

California already has more than 50 companies testing autonomous vehicles on its public roads, but at the current time, they all include safety drivers.

The state started accepting applications for fully driverless testing last April. But coming just a couple of weeks after a self-driving Uber car with a safety driver knocked down and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, applications got off to a slow start as companies opted to proceed with greater caution. However, having already launched fully driverless testing in Arizona, Waymo wasted little time in submitting its application when the opportunity presented itself.

With a growing number of companies vying to become the first to launch a full-fledged robot-taxi service, Waymo’s success in gaining a permit for testing cars without a safety driver in California is a promising development for the company. It’s also a clear sign from the authorities in California of its desire to stay at the forefront of autonomous-car development by paving the way for more advanced testing of the technology on its public roads.

The neighboring state of Arizona already allows testing sans safety driver, with Waymo, for example, offering driverless rides to the residents of Phoenix, where it plans to launch a robot-taxi service in the coming months. Last year it produced a video showing the reactions of passengers as its autonomous car — without anyone in the driving seat — automatically navigated the streets.

As for California, Waymo says that its first outings in cars without safety drivers will have employees in the passenger seats, but, just like in Phoenix, it plans to offer rides to members of the public before too long.

Waymo has so far driven 10 million autonomous miles and 7 billion simulated miles, and, in a statement of intent, earlier this year placed an order for more than 60,000 driverless minivans to add to its current fleet of several hundred vehicles.

Product Review

Hyundai’s luxurious Tucson suffocates you with more – in a good way

The refreshed 2019 Hyundai Tucson may be one of the more affordable compact SUVs on the market, but there are more safety features than before as standard, as well as a hint of luxury.

Watch Cruise Automation’s driverless car perform one of the trickiest maneuvers

Unprotected left turns in urban environments are one of the trickiest maneuvers a driver has to perform — and the same goes for self-driving cars. Autonomous-vehicle company Cruise Automation appears close to nailing it.

Texas awaits one signature to put a statewide stop to red light cameras

When Texas Governor Greg Abbott signs state House Bill 1631 into law, he will bring a halt to red light cameras in the state. The central issue in the bill's passage is the presumption of guilt of the registered owner of the car.

USPS taps self-driving big rigs to move mail between cities

The United States Postal Service is teaming up with autonomous-truck company TuSimple for a trial using its self-driving big rigs to transport mail between depots in Arizona and Texas.

GM hits reverse with Maven carsharing as it closes service in eight cities

GM-owned Maven will close its carsharing service in 8 of the 17 North American cities where it currently operates. Competing with the likes of Zipcar and Car2Go, the app-based service offers car rental by the hour or day.

Insiders claim the Tesla Model S nearly became the long-rumored Apple car

Apple offered to buy Tesla in 2013, according to an analyst who spoke to people familiar with the talks. Apple made Tesla a great offer, but the deal fell through when Elon Musk refused to step away from the company he helped found.

Parents will never miss soccer practice with BMW’s new 523-horsepower SUVs

BMW is launching M Performance versions of its biggest SUVs, the X5 and X7. While not full-on M models, they do pack 523-horsepower twin-turbo V8 engines, allowing both SUVs to sprint from zero to 60 mph in under five seconds.

Don’t trust Tesla’s new autonomous lane-changing feature, Consumer Reports warns

Consumer Reports warns that last month's Autopilot updates that enabled automatic lane changing may put you at risk of a ticket or accident. Reaction times lagged what a human could do, testers say.

EV owners may still need to stop at a Chevron station, but not to buy gasoline

EVgo, the operator of a sizable network of electric car charging stations, has partnered with Chevron. Five Chevron stations located in California will install EVgo chargers that electric car owners can pay to use.

Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV tries to balance power and efficiency with mild-hybrid V8

The redesigned Mercedes-Benz GLE will get a V8 mild-hybrid powertrain when it launches in the United States later in 2019. The 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 makes 483 hp on its own, but can also get a 21 hp electric boost.

Audi TT will get the ax to make way for electric cars — and the R8 may be next

Once a design leader, the Audi TT will meet its demise to make room in Audi's lineup for more electric cars. Audi executives confirmed plans to kill off the TT at the automaker's annual shareholder meeting.

Honda recalls 119,000 2019 CR-V crossovers over fears of airbag deployment

A manufacturing defect in select 2019 Honda CR-V crossovers could cause the airbag to malfunction and unexpectedly deploy, leading the automaker to recall some 137,000 vehicles worldwide, 118,598 of them in the U.S.

Cadillac confirms V-Series performance versions of the CT5 and CT4

Cadillac will unveil CT5-V and CT4-V sports sedans in Detroit May 30. They will be the latest cars in the General Motors luxury brand's V-Series performance line, which celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.

Lyft’s wallet-friendly Shared Saver option arrives in six more U.S. cities

Lyft is expanding its wallet-friendly Shared Saver option to Atlanta, Las Vegas, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle after launching it earlier this year in Denver, New York City, and San Jose.