Waymo Issued California’s First Permit to Test Driverless Cars on Public Roads

The self-driving tech company was first issued a similar permit in Arizona last year.

byRob Stumpf|
Waymo Issued California’s First Permit to Test Driverless Cars on Public Roads

Waymo, Google's self-driving tech startup sister company, has been issued a permit by the California Department of Motor Vehicles to begin testing its cars in an autonomous mode which would not require a safety driver behind the wheel.

The permit is the very first of its kind in the Golden State and would allow Waymo to make use of its vehicle's driverless capabilities in an area sandwiched between the technology hot spots of Palo Alto and San Jose. Specifically, Waymo lists testing locations as Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto. Mountain View is home to more than a dozen companies that are currently dabbling in various forms of vehicle autonomy, none of which have the same permit issued to them as Waymo.

Waymo will operate in the area surrounding Palo Alo and Mountain View., via Waymo

The permit issued by the DMV allows the technology company to operate its driverless vehicles on the road during both the day and night, so long as weather conditions do not exceed fog and light rain. Waymo's vehicles are also allowed to traverse city streets, rural roads, and highways up to 65 miles per hour.

As a whole, a driverless vehicle program is not new to Waymo. The nine-year-old company has been operating a pilot fleet of driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Phoenix, Arizona, since 2017 and has gathered upwards of ten million miles of data from its on-road driving experience across 24 other cities in which it operates. In addition to its actual on-road driving, Waymo says that it has simulated over 7 billion miles of automated driving.

Waymo has baked in largely fail-safe logic to its self-driving vehicle's directives so that if a condition occurs which the car's software cannot understand, the vehicle will come to a safe, complete stop until it can process a logical outcome on how to proceed. Additionally, the vehicle will automatically reach out to the company's fleet and rider support for help on rectifying the problem.

Prior to beginning the program in California, Waymo plans to notify the community of its intentions so that they are aware of the Waymo vehicles around them being sans driver. The community won't be immediately able to hail rides from the vehicles (first dibs goes to the Waymo testing team), but the program is planned to eventually expand similar to the offering in Phoenix. As the company feels more confident in the vehicle's ability to perform, it will seek DMV approval to begin to expand its territory for testing.