Google spinoff, Waymo, to test fully driverless cars in California

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Google-owned Waymo has received the California DMV's first permit to allow self-driving vehicles on the road, day or night, with no one inside. 

"This new permit allows Waymo to test a fleet of about 3 dozen vehicles without drivers behind the wheels," said California DMV spokesman Marty Greenstein. 

Waymo has been testing the technology with an eventual possibility of using it for shuttles or providing ride services. Tuesday's permit approval is a big step forward, but the DMV says Waymo would need to acquire a second permit from the California Public Utilities Commission in order to transport passengers. 

The California Department of Motor Vehicles spokesman says Waymo and one other company applied for the permit last spring, but Waymo was the first to complete the application process and fulfill the necessary requirements. Since 2014, Waymo and some 60 other companies have had permits to test self-driving vehicles, but only with an operator inside. 

The new permit will allow Waymo to operate self-driving vehicles in designated test areas, limited to Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Sunnyvale in Santa Clara County. 

"This is the next step, but we always keeping the public safety in mind," said Greenstein. 

The DMV permit requires Waymo to have $5 million in insurance or a bond, notify local governments about the test routes, and provide law enforcement and first responders with an interaction plan for emergencies.

The DMV says even without a driver inside the vehicle, there must be a trained operator overseeing the test drive.

"They also must have remote operators monitoring the vehicles that they are operating," said Greenstein. . 

The DMV requires mandatory collision or disengagement reports when human intervention was used. Waymo had 12 reports on file so far in 2018. A DMV spokesman says there was a thorough review and none of the reported incidents was serious enough to disqualify Waymo.

"Most of the collisions and might not have been the fault of the technology," said Greenstein.

At a city council meeting in Sunnyvale Tuesday night, residents had mixed feelings.

"I am very much in favor of this. I think there's plenty of consideration for safety issues and testing for months and months now," said Kevin Jackson of Sunnyvale, "I am convinced that even if they're not perfect they're way better than the typcial driver." 

"I think it would be good to pilot in a smaller sense rather than a large test case. We're talking about multiple cities that's concerning to me," said Henry Alexander of Sunnyvale.

"The technology behind it is one thing There's a lot of legal issues and practical everyday issues that I think bears examination," said Misuk Park of Sunnyvale.

"Their video technology is amazing," said Sue Serrone of Sunnyvale, adding "I think there's a lot of kinds of issues that come up on a day to day situations that will need to be worked through. 

Waymo has already been conducting vehicle tests in Phoenix for the past year with no driver inside. They will be required to submit an annual report to the DMV.