Google’s self-driving car project is now known as Waymo. In announcing the news, the firm also revealed that it has already undertaken the world’s first fully driverless trip on public roads.
Since 2009, Google’s self-driving prototypes have spent the equivalent of 300 years of driving time on the road – enough to complete one average British rush hour commute.
The firm says its cars are programmed to recognise cyclists as ‘unique users of the road’ and drive conservatively around them. The cars can recognise common hand signals and have been taught to recognise other common behaviour as well.
Waymo, a new subsidiary of Google’s Alphabet parent company, will now look to turn driverless technology into a viable business.
“Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, without tired, drunk or distracted driving,” says the firm’s website. “Time spent commuting could be time spent doing what you want to do.”
The firm’s launch video outlines how a blind man, Steve Mahan, travelled unaccompanied in one of Google’s Koala cars on the public roads of Austin, Texas, in 2015.
Mahan had ridden in the cars previously – first accompanied by a test driver in 2012 and then on a closed course in 2013. However, on this occasion he was taken through everyday traffic with no steering wheel, no pedals, and no test driver.
According to The Guardian, a number of different revenue streams are being explored. These include Uber-style driverless ride sharing, logistics, self-driving technology for public transport and improving the “last mile” of postal delivery as well as simply licensing the software to car manufacturers.
Waymo is being headed by John Krafcik, who makes it clear that whatever the firm ends up pursuing, it will not be building cars.
“We are a self-driving technology company. We’ve been really clear that we’re not a car company, although there’s been some confusion on that point. We’re not in the business of making better cars. We’re in the business of making better drivers.”