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Waymo trials self-driving cars without human backup drivers

The rides are limited in nature but have only passengers onboard.

No human? No problem, says Waymo.


The next time a Waymo self-driving car rolls up to passengers as part of a pilot program, there may not even be a human safety driver inside.

Reuters broke the news on Monday, quoting company CEO John Krafcik as saying "rider-only" trips have started in Phoenix, Arizona, and in these trips, there are no human attendants onboard -- just the passengers and the robo car doing its thing.

According to the executive, trips without any human safety driver present are limited to only a few hundred people who signed up as part of an early rider program. Those who did sign up won't be able to share much, either, since they signed nondisclosure agreements. Waymo remains the only self-driving car company to have begun a paid ride-sharing service for a selected group of riders. It's not yet open to the public.

Waymo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Now playing: Watch this: A ride on public streets in Waymo One

Most companies testing autonomous cars continue to place a human backup driver behind the wheel. Hyundai, which partnered with China's Pony.Ai for self-driving technology, will have two human operators inside at all times as it pilots a robo taxi service. That Waymo is moving to remove human drivers, albeit at a small scale, could be clue as to its overall confidence, however.

Additionally, Krafcik told Reuters, the company is looking for ways to create revenue outside of a ride-sharing service. He explained trucking and commercial applications are of particular interest and confirmed the company is testing autonomous technology with semi trucks in what it calls "Project Husky."

As for moving the autonomous driving tech to passenger cars, Krafcik indicated there's no clear answer on how the company would approach it. He said it could be included in a company's car either branded as "Waymo" or as part of a client automaker's own identity. The CEO called both options "interesting."

In the present, however, roads and regulations are hardly prepared for self-driving cars to hit the pavement. It'll be quite some time before this kind of technology becomes the norm.