Google offshoot Waymo filed an application on Friday morning to begin testing its self-driving cars without humans sitting behind the wheel. If approved by state regulators, the request could result in as many as 75 driverless vehicles being tested in Mountain View and other South Bay cities, according to a source familiar with the application.
Self-driving cars have been navigating Mountain View's streets for years, but have been required to have a human in the driver's seat to take control if the autopilot system were to fail.
That rule changed this month. Starting on April 2, the California Department of Motor Vehicles began a new testing phase for companies to operate their autonomous vehicles independently. These cars would still need to be tracked remotely, but a human would no longer need to be physically sitting in the driver's seat.
Waymo confirmed Friday, April 13, that the company applied for the new driverless testing in a statement to the Voice, but the company spokesperson declined to comment on the record.
Waymo is now the second company to apply for permission in California to test autonomous vehicles without drivers present. DMV officials received one prior application from an unidentified company last week, but it was deemed incomplete. Until testing permits are granted, DMV officials are declining to disclose the applicants or the applications.
Driverless testing is a big step for California, but other states are already allowing it on public streets. Waymo currently operates fully driverless testing in Arizona using a geofence system that control where the vehicles can travel. A similar system will set the boundaries for where the company's cars can go in California, according to a source familiar with the application.
Under the state's rules, autonomous vehicle companies are required to coordinate with local officials in cities where they plan to test-drive. This coordination includes providing information on where and when self-driving cars will be operating.
Mountain View officials say they have met with Waymo representatives in recent days, but the company has not provided these details so far. The company will also need to provide a procedure plan for how local police can interact with the vehicles.
Based on his meeting with Waymo, Mayor Lenny Siegel said the company would begin testing its driverless vehicles over the next several months.