San Francisco - The robotic car company created by Google is poised to attempt a major technological leap in California, where its vehicles will hit the roads without a human on hand to take control in emergencies.
The self-driving cars have travelled millions of miles on the state's roads since Waymo began as a secretive project within Google nearly a decade ago. But a backup driver had been required to be behind the wheel until new regulations in April set the stage for the transition to true autonomy.
Waymo is the first among dozens of companies testing self-driving cars in California in a bid to persuade state regulators that the technology is safe enough to permit them on the roads without a 'safety driver' in them. An engineer must still monitor the fully autonomous cars from a remote location and be able to steer and stop the vehicles if something goes wrong.
California, however, won't be the first state to have Waymo's fully autonomous cars on its streets. Waymo has been giving rides to a group of volunteer passengers in Arizona in driverless cars since last year. It has pledged to deploy its fleet of fully autonomous vans in Arizona in a ride-hailing service open to all comers in the Phoenix area by the end of this year.
But California has a much larger population and far more congestion than Arizona, making it even more challenging place for robotic cars to get around.