Google’s self-driving division can now deploy fully driverless cars on the public roads of California after getting approval from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The company, which is preparing to launch driverless ride-hailing program in the US, is the first approved to test cars without human drivers behind the wheels on the state’s public roads.
Waymo said it will restrict the test in the neighborhoods of Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Mountain View, and Los Alto Hills, noting that the areas are well-known to the company. Waymo headquarters and its main campus in Mountain View are also included. The company would extend the test to other areas gradually but will first notify new communities and also obtain permission from the DMV, it said.
The driverless car testing permit includes day and night on California highways, streets and rural roads, with maximum speed pegged at 65 mph (104 km/h). Waymo says its vehicles can handle light rain and fog safely and that the permit includes testing in those conditions. “We 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,” says Waymo
The public won’t be offered rides immediately; Waymo is about launching its first commercial robotaxi service in Phoenix, where it has long been pushing the project, using its autonomous minivans. The company says it would create opportunities for the public to experience the service, the same way it did in Phoenix using early rider program.
Applications for fully driverless testing permit started in California since the 2nd of April after a policy change made provisions for autonomous cars testing on public roads by companies wishing to do so. According to the new policy, the state would allow autonomous vehicles without human drivers behind the wheels, steering wheels, mirrors, and foot pedals to be tested on its roads.
California DMV Director Jean Shiomoto said the state has for many years been towards making provisions for fully driverless cars while holding the public’s safety at high esteem.
General Motors, Uber and Waymo are among the companies that have been following up the policy that would allow autonomous vehicle testing in the state. California will be lucrative for such service. Many other companies are developing fleets of autonomous vehicles for public use. According to DMV officials, about 60 companies licensed with DMV are in a move to test nearly 300 self-driving cars.
Unlike in Arizona, which allows Waymo autonomous vehicles, driverless testing permit holders in California has 10 days to report any collisions that involve a driverless test car to the DMV and are required to submit disengagements report annually.