Waymo gets first California OK for driverless testing without backup driver

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WASHINGTON – the Waymo unit of Alphabet Inc. on Tuesday, the first company to receive a California license to test drivers without a driver on the front seat without a driver, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

California said Waymo could use about three dozen test vehicles without drivers behind the wheel in Santa Clara County, part of Silicon Valley's larger technology center.

Although self-propelled vehicles are designed to avoid the need for a driver, most of the tests so far have taken place with a safety driver behind the wheel that can be taken over in an emergency.

About 60 companies have permits in California to test self-driving vehicles with such a backup driver, including most major car manufacturers and Apple Inc. New regulations that have been approved by the state and allow companies to test on public roads without a driver with a special permit have entered into force April.

As part of winning approval, Waymo must continuously monitor the status of test vehicles and provide two-way communication with passengers, provide at least $ 5 million in insurance and notify local communities.

Waymo & # 39; s permit includes day and night tests on city streets, rural roads and highways with posted speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. The company said that its vehicles are safe from fog and light rain and testing in those circumstances is permitted.

"California has been working on this milestone for several years and we will keep the safety of the public in mind as this technology evolves," said Jean Shiomoto, director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, in a statement.

Waymo said that testing without a driver in city streets in Silicon Valley begins and extends to other areas after it has informed local communities. The company will test Waymo employees for the first time and eventually "create opportunities for members of the public to experience this technology, as we did in Arizona with our Early Rider program."

In Arizona, Waymo is conducting some vehicle tests without a backup driver and has announced that it plans to launch a commercial self-driving rhythm service in the state by the end of 2018.

The new requirements call for remote control technology, allowing a driver to remotely take over the control of a vehicle if the underlying autonomous system in the car is experiencing problems. Companies such as Waymo, Nissan Motor Co and startups Zoox, Phantom Auto and Starsky Robotics have worked on such technology.