Waymo Ditches Human Safety Drivers in Its Self-Driving Taxis

Waymo One, the self-driving taxi service operated by Google parent company Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle offshoot, is back after a pandemic hiatus, and it’s opening its doors to the public.

As it does, passengers will notice a stark difference.

In the past, over 90 percent of the company’s rides still had a human behind the wheel who, as Futurism previously reported, often took over and drove instead of using the company’s partially autonomous technology. For now, those human operators have been removed from the equation and the only people inside the vehicle will be the passengers themselves.

“We paused rides (driverless and with vehicle operators) in March due to COVID,” Waymo spokesperson Katherine Barna told Futurism. “As of yesterday, we’ve returned with 100% fully driverless for the near term. Later this year, after we’ve finished adding in-vehicle barriers between the front row and the rear passenger cabin for in-vehicle hygiene and safety, we’ll also be re-introducing rides with a trained vehicle operator, which will add capacity and allow us to serve a larger geographical area.”

As of Thursday, the service is open to previous Waymo One users and operates within a 100-square-mile region of Phoenix, Arizona, though only half of that area allows fully-driverless rides. The company plans to expand geographically and invite new users in the coming weeks. However, Barna said that in the future, Waymo plans to put human drivers back behind the wheel for trips with new customers.

The vehicles operating without a human behind the wheel, Ars Technica reports, can still call for help from a person remotely overseeing the trip if they get stuck.

Getting fully-driverless cars on the road is a great technical accomplishment, but as Ars reports, Waymo isn’t out of the woods yet. One key problem: Waymo is still massively unprofitable.

READ MORE: Waymo finally launches an actual public, driverless taxi service [Ars Technica]

More on Waymo One: Exclusive: A Waymo One Rider’s Experiences Highlight Autonomous Rideshare’s Shortcomings

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