Google spinoff Waymo: World’s first fully self-driving ride-share service could launch ‘this fall’

On self-driving cars, Waymo appears to be moving fast and breaking projections.

The many predictions that fully self-driving cars won’t hit U.S. roads for a decade or more will be blown sky high if Google spinoff Waymo starts a ride-share service this fall with no backup drivers required. It would be a world first.

That’s what the company is aiming for, according to a new report. Waymo is “preparing to launch the first commercial ride-sharing service powered by self-driving vehicles with no human ‘safety’ drivers as soon as this fall,” online magazine The Information reported Oct. 3.

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The digital magazine based its report on two people said to have been briefed on the plan.

In a separate but related story, The Information reported that the self-driving ride-share service is expected to operate in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb and Waymo testing ground. However, “major problems with the technology persist,” according to the magazine, which cited interviews with “people directly involved.”

For example, Waymo’s cars sometimes can’t make left turns — they just sit there, The Information said.

“During the year and a half that Waymo’s self-driving cars have been tested on the streets of Chandler and nearby suburbs, they’ve sometimes had to stop trying to make left turns because the software wasn’t safe enough,” the magazine reported, based on comments from someone said to have access to information on Waymo’s operations.

The cars reportedly find left turns particularly difficult when there’s no green-arrow signal.

Left turns by cars are a particular risk to motorcycles: more than 40 percent of all crashes involving motorcycles and cars occur when a car turns left into the path of a rider going straight, according to property and casualty insurance firm Philadelphia Insurance Companies.

Google started work on self-driving cars in 2009, and spun off Waymo into its own business last year.

Experts agree the company is far ahead of competitors, but the race to full autonomy has been joined by virtually every major car manufacturer, along with a number of tech companies.

“Waymo’s foes, including traditional carmakers, will be watching closely,” The Information reported.

“Uber already operates a self-driving ride-sharing service in some U.S. markets, but it has humans sitting in the driver’s seat who are able to take over in times of trouble, which happens frequently.

“Waymo wants to remove that ‘safety’ driver.”

 

Photo: A self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan from Google spin-off Waymo (courtesy of Waymo)

 

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