Waymo, who is owned by Alphabet, this week applied to test cars without back up drivers on California roads, even as recent crashes involving autonomous vehicles has heightened fears about the safety of the technology
A source familiar with the matter told the San Francisco Chronicle that Waymo plans to extensively map the Californian terrain by having vehicles with test drivers cover it first, before using no-driver cars.
The move comes less than a month after a fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber SUV in Arizona raised fresh concerns about the safety of autonomous cars. That vehicle had a backup driver behind the wheel when it struck and killed a pedestrian on March 19, but dashcam videos showed the driver was not watching the road.
Waymo CEO, John Krafcik said that the Arizona tragedy would not have happened with a Waymo car.
“We have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one,” Krafcik told a car dealers group the week after the accident.
The company started testing autonomous vehicles in 2009, when the idea was considered as incredibly forward-thinking. It was the third company to receive a permit for road tests, with backup drivers behind the wheel, in California.
Waymo designed a bubble-shaped autonomous car that had no steering wheel or brake pedal, but California officials would not allow it onto public roads until those features had been added.
“Waymo has done extensive vehicle testing on our local streets with a good safety record,” Mountain View City Manager Dan Rich, said in a statement. He commended the company for committing to “transparency and information sharing.”