Alphabet’s Waymo has been granted California’s first permit to test fully driverless vehicles on public roads as it races towards commercialising autonomous technology. The permit from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will allow Waymo’s cars to test without a human operator during the day and at night on city streets, rural roads and highways with speed limits up to 65 miles an hour.
The company will initially test in the area around its northern California headquarters, including parts of Mountain View and Palo Alto. The permit to test cars without safety drivers in its home state is the latest win for Waymo, which is aiming to bring a robo-taxi service to market before rivals including Uber, General Motors’ Cruise, Lyft and Zoox.
Last week Ruth Porat, Alphabet finance chief, revealed to investors that Waymo has begun charging passengers for rides in its self-driving cars in Arizona, where the company has been piloting its technology in the suburbs of Phoenix since 2016. In contrast to Arizona, where a permissive regulatory approach has attracted many companies looking to develop self-driving cars, California has a stricter regime, which has until now required human operators to sit behind the wheel in autonomous vehicles.
Sixty companies hold permits in California to test autonomous technology, but Waymo is the first to gain a driverless testing permit under new DMV regulations that went into effect in April. Considered the industry leader, Waymo has driven more than 10m miles on public roads since it began working on the technology in 2009.