Waymo applies to test empty driver seat driverless cars

Google-owned self-driving vehicle company Waymo has applied for a license to test autonomous cars and trucks without a backup driver on the roads of California.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Google’s subsidiary plans to test completely driverless vehicles near Waymo’s Mountain View HQ in CA. In this area its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans have been driving and learning – though with drivers in the car in case things go wrong.

California’s laws recognise the computer driving a ‘driverless vehicle’ as being the ‘driver’ so within the law, it really is only a smaller first step. The news comes however just weeks after an Uber driverless vehicle killed a pedestrian, so this may cause some unease among local officials. Shortly after the Uber car killed the pedestrian in Arizona, a Tesla on autopilot hit the central reservation of a CA highway near Mountain View, killing the driver.

With the billions of miles getting driven in testing, fatalities are now appearing though nothing like in the frequency of human drivers. This technology being tested by Waymo and its rivals is remarkably safe by comparison, even if there is a lot of media coverage for every fatality that occurs. There are still legal issues being sorted out – it will be interesting to see whether the Uber driver will be blamed for the accident or Uber itself for instance.

However you look at it, the Waymo completely driverless trials are quite a step toward replacing humans at the wheel, potentially cheapening haulage costs and the way deliveries will be made in the very short term.