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The autonomous car unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc. said this week it will soon start chauffeuring people in minivans without "safety drivers," staffers that man the steering wheel. Waymo is doing so in a limited region of Phoenix, where it is running a pilot program with volunteer passengers. The move, a first for any company, is a major milestone for the internet giant's bid to lead the crowded pack trying to commercialize driverless technology.
“We want the experience of traveling with Waymo to be routine, so you want to use our driver for your everyday needs,” John Krafcik, Waymo’s chief executive officer, said at the Web Summit conference in Portugal. “Fully self-driving cars are here.”
Krafcik said a Waymo service will arrive soon, allowing people to hail the cars with a mobile app, similar to services like Uber and Lyft. Waymo has partnered with Lyft but hasn’t shared details on that deal.
Waymo’s cars have driven with an empty front seat on its 91-acre test site in central California, where the company recently hosted reporters. The Chrysler minivans have a small graphical interface in the back seat, which lets riders watch the driverless course, and buttons to call customer service or pull the car over.
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