No safety driver in Waymo's self-driving vehicle taxi fleet

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Waymo is testing vehicles on public roads with only an employee in the back seat.

Waymo, formerly known as Google's self-driving auto, is launching a fully autonomous Uber-like ride-hailing service with no human driver behind the wheel, after testing the vehicles on public roads in Arizona.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. "Waymo's work here in Chandler is groundbreaking as they work toward their goal of fully autonomous vehicles", said Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny, in a statement provided by Waymo. To date, Waymo vehicles have been operating on public roads with a test driver at the wheel.

At first, those passengers will be accompanied in the back seat by a Waymo employee, but eventually they will travel alone, although they will be able to hit a button to stop the auto.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced the fully driverless trials at Web Summit today, and revealed the video above, and also noted that while the trial is starting with employees first, it's soon going to expand to the existing members of the Chandler driverless ride hailing service trial that Waymo kicked off at the beginning of 2017.

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The brain-bending, potentially earth-moving technology that allows self-driving cars to drive themselves has generally come with an asterisk - in the form of an old-fashioned flesh-and-blood driver sitting behind the wheel, just in case.

Last week, USA auto retailer AutoNation Inc announced a multiyear partnership for vehicle maintenance and repairs for Waymo's self-driving car operations. But experts have said the public should not expect this problem to be solved quickly. The carmaker's goal for its Cruise self-driving vehicle unit is to "safely develop and deploy self-driving cars at scale" in dense, urban environments, not suburbs. Waymo has not said how many people are in the program.

The new rides are a major test for Waymo's technology, which has proved to be largely error-free in eight years.

The company declined to say how many fully autonomous vehicles - beyond saying more than one - would be without a human driver behind the wheel. And while Waymo's news that fully autonomous cars are here is a big deal, it's a much bigger deal that the company is officially announcing its plans to launch an autonomous taxi service in the metropolitan area of Phoenix following the testing period that's set over the next few months. The company's vehicles have traveled more than 3.5 million miles on public roads, and only one has been reported to cause a crash-a vehicle in California last year hit the side of a bus at two miles an hour last year.

Ditching the human test driver may sound alarming, but it brings Waymo closer to offering a truly autonomous vehicle.

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