“Fully self-driving cars are here”: Waymo becomes first company to remove human drivers, announces driverless Uber rival

In a landmark moment for self-driving cars, Google’s driverless car company Waymo has announced that it has begun testing the car without a human behind the wheel on public roads.

The move, which was announced by John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, today at Web Summit, makes Waymo the first company to do so.

“We have some exciting news to share with the world right here at Web Summit,” he said. “Right now we’re going to show you a video of Waymo’s fully self-driving cars on public roads, test driving without anyone in the driver’s seat.

“Fully self-driving cars are here. It’s not happening in 2020, it’s happening today.”

The announcement was accompanied by the unveiling of the planned Waymo Driverless Service, an Uber rival that will see a fleet of Waymo driverless vehicles operating, entirely without human involvement, as a taxi service across the world at an unspecified time in the future.

Discussing the video embedded above, Krafcik stressed that the vehicles we’re operating completely autonomously, meaning Waymo has achieved the holy grail of true level 5 self-driving cars.

“As you can see, there’s no one in the front seats,” he said. “Waymo team members chose three separate destinations, pressed the start button in the car and the vehicle did all the rest, choosing what route to take, when to turn, when to yield and everything in between. That’s full, true autonomy.”

In addition, he was keen to stress that such trials are now going to be commonplace in Phoenix, Arizona, where the company is testing its vehicles.

“This wasn’t just a one-time ride or just a demo, what you’re seeing now marks the start of a new phase for Waymo, and for the history of this technology,” said Krafcik. “We’re test-driving these fully self-driving vehicles in a part of the Phoenix metro area in Arizona. Over time we’ll expand to cover the entire Phoenix region, an area much larger than Greater London, and our ultimate goal is to bring our fully self-driving technology to more cities in the US and around the world.”

It won’t just be Waymo employees that get to experience the vehicles, either.

“In the next few months members of the public will get to experience these fully self-driving rides too,” he said. “The first passengers will be people who are part of our early rider program, which is a public trial already underway in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Since the beginning of this year our early riders have been using our fleet with a test driver at the wheel to go to work, school, soccer practice and more. Soon they’ll be able to make these trips in a fully self-driving car with Waymo as their chauffer.”

Krafcik at Web Summit, with one of the Waymo driverless fleet. Image courtesy of Web Summit

As part of his talk at Web Summit, Krafcik also unveiled the company’s plans for the Waymo Driverless Service, an autonomous alternative to Uber that currently has no fixed timeline, but will eventually be rolled out around the world.

“We’re now working on making this commercial service available to the public,” he said. “People get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, run errands, whatever they like.

“Getting access will be easy as using an app: you just tap a button and Waymo will come to get you, and take you where you want to go. The vehicles will be fully self-driving, so you have your own personal space where you just sit back and relax.”

UN Secretary-General: We risk “massive unemployment” unless we start preparing for automation

We need to start preparing for the major upheaval that automation is bringing to avoid large-scale unemployment, António Guterres, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations has warned.

Speaking at the opening night of Web Summit, Guterres said that technological advances risked producing significant levels of unemployment across the world, and that action was needed across all sectors of society to prevent this.

“We risk to have massive unemployment, both in the developed and the developing world, with the development of some of the new technologies we are facing,” Guterres said. “The answer is not, of course, to stop that development, the answer is to be able to adapt the way we work in our societies in order to be able to anticipate these trends, instead of responding to it when it comes and doing it too late, as it sometimes has happened in the past.

“It’s important to think about how we can make sure that innovation is a force for good. And there are, I think, two things we need to avoid. First is the stupid reaction to say let’s stop innovation, and it is stupid because it is impossible, and second to avoid the naive approach to think that traditional forms of regulation, like the ones we have today for energy or for the financial system or the insurance system, can solve the problem. “

António Guterres, who is the former prime minister of Portugal, became secretary-general of the UN earlier this year

The solution, he argued, is to change the very way we learn, so that we move from the traditional approach of acquiring a set of skills in youth that keep up in work for life to a world where we are forever learning and adapting to the changing times.

“That means a revolution and a massive investment in education and training,” he said. “The education we need for the future is different from the education we are used to discussing, it’s not how to learn to do things, but how to learn how to learn, because the things we do will not be done tomorrow.

“And the way we think of our education systems need to be essentially reformed.”

He also alluded to basic income, a proposed replacement for benefits that would see everyone in a country receive a flat rate of base pay, regardless of whether they were also in employment or not.

“Social safety nets need also to change, and even the way we look at work and leisure, the way we divide our time, the way we divide our lives, will have to change quite dramatically.”

Guterres spoke during the opening night of Web Summit, which kicked off the major technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday. Images courtesy of Web Summit

Such a dramatic change, he argued, would need to be driven by collaboration between all sectors of society.

“It is absolutely essential that governments, the civil society, the business sector, the academia work together, discuss together, raise these issues that have been ignored in the public debate, because those are the issues that will allow us to be able to face the future and to avoid the mistakes of the past,” said Guterres.

“And my appeal to those that are at this Web Summit: governments, businesses, academia, researchers, scientists, is to start seriously discussing the impacts of the fourth industrial revolution in the societies of tomorrow.”