Waymo, the self-driving car company that was spun off from Google, has applied for a permit to test completely driverless vehicles on public roads in California. The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the news Friday afternoon, and Waymo confirmed to the publication that it submitted its application to the California DMV late Thursday.
Although autonomous vehicles are increasingly common on California’s roads (according to the DMV’s website, 52 companies currently hold permits), but all those vehicles have at least one safety driver monitoring the vehicle, ready to take over if necessary. No-driver testing became legal in California as of April 2nd, and Waymo is not the first company to apply for a permit. Waymo already has no-driver test vehicles on the road in Arizona, which has a notably looser testing regime for autonomous vehicles than California.
According to the Chronicle‘s reporting, Waymo will first test no-driver vehicles on roads around its Mountain View headquarters, which have already been extensively driven and logged by the company’s fleet of self-driving test vehicles. Over time, Waymo plans to expand the area in which it tests no-driver vehicles, although it will always map an area with human-supervised vehicles first.
California’s self-driving test rules require all autonomous vehicles without a safety driver to have a link to a remote operator, who can monitor the vehicle and take over if necessary. That function is only intended to clear the roadway in case of an autonomous disengagement or accident, however, and the vehicle is expected to avoid accidents autonomously.
The DMV requires all companies participating in its self-driving car program to submit annual reports showing the frequency of accidents or disengagements of autonomous vehicle. The most recent Waymo report, which covers 2017, shows 63 disengagements in 352,544 miles of autonomous driving. However, the report also shows a clear trend of improvement: Although the number of miles driver per month remained relatively consistent, Waymo only saw one disengagement in the most recent month reported, November 2017.