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Waymo Granted California Permit to Test Self-Driving Cars Without Human Backup

Waymo, the self-driving arm of Alphabet, is one of the leading companies developing driverless technology. Since 2009, the company has logged over ten million real-world miles with its fleet of self-driving vehicles and billions more in computer simulation. However, most of these miles, a human backup was sitting in the driver seat, ready to take over if necessary.

Now the company is getting the nod from California regulators to test autonomous vehicles without a human backup driver on public roads. The California DMV has granted Waymo the first ever permit to test its driverless minivans without a driver present, meaning there will be no test driver sitting in the driver's seat.

This permit is the result of new DMV regulations that took effect in April, which allow companies to apply for fully-driverless testing within certain defined areas.

Waymo's test region is highlighted in blue

Waymo's test vehicles will be restricted to driving in the shaded area of the map, which includes the Silicon Valley towns of Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto. The testing zone includes the headquarters of both Waymo and parent company, Alphabet.

Mountain View is home to more than a dozen autonomous vehicle companies, and Waymo said that the city has supported autonomous testing for years.

Waymo is not just releasing a fleet of self-driving vehicles without warning the public. Prior to launching driverless vehicles in any new territory, Waymo said it will notify any new communities where this expansion will occur, as well as submit a formal request to the California DMV.

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. Waymo's test area includes portions of California's busy 101 Freeway. Waymo says its vehicles can safely handle fog and light rain, and testing in those conditions is included in its permit.

The company will gradually begin driverless testing on city streets in a limited territory and, over time, "expand the area that we drive in as we gain confidence and experience to expand." Waymo wrote in a blog post.

Safety has always been the core of Waymo's mission. Each vehicle undergoes rigorous testing that begins well before they get to the road.

If a Waymo vehicle comes across a situation it cannot navigate, the vehicle comes to a safe stop until it does understand how to proceed. For added safety, Waymo follows a set of well-established protocols, which include contacting Waymo fleet and rider support for help in resolving the issue.

Waymo is already testing driverless minivans for an autonomous ride-hailing service it plans to launch soon in Arizona. Waymo's Early Rider Program has been in operation since last year and allows members of the public the experience of riding in a self-driving vehicle.

Unlike Arizona, the pilot in California will not involve the public yet.

Waymo worte in a blog post that "eventually, we'll create opportunities for members of the public to experience this technology, as we've done in Arizona with our early rider program."

This article is selected from FutureCar.

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