Though companies like Tesla make it clear that their cars' self-driving capabilities are not intended to fully replace a human driver, Waymo feels quite differently. The autonomous car tech development arm of Alphabet seems eager to eliminate human drivers from the equation entirely, leaving all of the heavy lifting to the cars themselves.
However, this was not always the case. According to a report from Reuters, Waymo's autonomous vehicles initially had a "driver hand-off" feature that required drivers to take control in the event of an emergency.
The company decided to toss this feature out after realizing that most drivers acted more like passengers during transit. Specifically, many would interact with their phone, look out the window or even take a nap while on the road.
According to Waymo CEO John Krafcik, forcing drivers to take control so suddenly – and in a potentially dangerous situation – could do more harm than good. "What we found was pretty scary," he said. "It's hard [for passengers] to take over because they have lost contextual awareness."
It's worth noting that the individuals behind the wheel during this in-house testing period were all trained Waymo employees. The danger a driver hand-off feature could pose to the general public could be much greater.
Since these tests, which occurred in 2013, the company has decided to focus exclusively on the development of autonomous car tech that doesn't require any human control at all. Waymo hopes this new development strategy will allow "passengers to stay passengers," creating a safer environment for all.
The company is currently testing self-driving vehicles in a more practical manner - a ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona, that reportedly has a small but ever-expanding user base. Krafcik claims the company is getting close to extending this service beyond a single city but didn't offer any further details.