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Waymo driverless cars have driven 20 million miles on public roads

It took 10 years for the first 10 million, then a little over a year for the next 10 million, CEO John Krafcik says.

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Waymo CEO John Krafcik spoke at CES in Las Vegas.

Richard Nieva/CNET
This story is part of CES 2020, our complete coverage of the showroom floor and the hottest new tech gadgets around.

Waymo, the autonomous car company owned by Google parent Alphabet, announced a new milestone Monday evening. The company said its fleet of driverless vehicles has driven more than 20 million miles on public roads.

CEO John Krafcik made the announcement in Las Vegas at CES, the world's largest consumer technology conference.  

"You need to have a lot of real world experience," Krafcik said at a dinner event hosted by Fortune Magazine. "There's no way to avoid it."

Waymo, which started in 2009 as a Google project called Chauffeur, took a decade to drive its first 10 million miles, said Krafcik. The company doubled that total in just over a year, he said. The distance would amount to circling the globe 800 times, the company said. 

The announcement comes as Waymo and other car companies aim to take autonomous cars mainstream. Three years ago, the company began a pilot ride-hailing program picking up passengers in the Phoenix area. Last year, the company began testing rides with Phoenix passengers in cars that were completely autonomous -- without a safety driver behind the wheel. 

Along the way, Waymo has faced its share of drama. In 2017, the company was embroiled in a bitter legal battle with Uber over the alleged theft of trade secrets. Waymo contended Anthony Levandowski, a former Google engineer and pioneer in self-driving technology, stole confidential files on his way out and eventually took them to Uber when the ride-hailing company bought Levandowski's startup Otto in 2016. Alphabet and Uber settled after only a few days in court.

On Monday, Krafcik said that while the company's fleet had driven 20 million miles, it had driven "tens of billions" of miles through computer simulations. Krafcik also said Monday evening that Alphabet has invested "billions" of dollars in Waymo but declined to get more specific.