CARS.COM — In what sounds like the plot of a sci-fi movie, empty cars are now driving themselves around in Arizona. Waymo, Google's self-driving car company, just announced that it's testing its autonomous minivans around Phoenix — without a human inside to intervene if something goes wrong.
Like many driverless-car prototypes, Waymo had been testing the technology with safety drivers ready to take the wheel if needed. But this is the first time the drivers have been left on the curb.
The company started the program by inviting residents of the Phoenix metropolitan area to join the first public trial of its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in its Early Rider program. Though the company hasn't said how many volunteers it's looking for, it did specify that it's looking for people with diverse transportation needs.
"As an early rider, you'll be able to use our self-driving cars to go places you frequent every day, from work to school to the movies and more," Waymo said in a statement. "Then, you'll be able to share your thoughts and experiences with our team to help shape the future of how our self-driving cars will work."
According to Waymo, safety is paramount. The company has logged approximately 3 million miles of autonomous vehicle testing since it started as the Google self-driving car project in 2009, and many of those miles have been on city streets full of congestion and complication. Waymo also said it logs software tests of approximately 10 million miles of simulated driving every day.
Waymo says the company's focus is on shared mobility, and next on its company's bucket list is launching a ride-sharing program, inviting passengers to sample the world's first driverless ride-hailing service. Participants in the Early Rider program will be among the first to check it out.
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