Waymo Sets First Self-Driving Car Public Tests

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Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) self-driving car unit Waymo says it is ready to begin tests with people outside its own employees. It asked for people to apply for its early rider program and become among the “first people in the world to take part” in the endeavor.

In a press release, the company stated:

Over the course of this trial, we’ll be accepting hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs who want to ride in and give feedback about Waymo’s self-driving cars. Rather than offering people one or two rides, the goal of this program is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco.

Waymo also said it would buy 500 Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) Pacifica minivans so it could expand tests further.

Waymo is in a race to become among the first car and technology companies to launch self-driving technology that is practical and safe enough to be used widely on public streets. Thirty companies have permits to test autonomous vehicles in California, just one sign of how crowed the field has become. Some companies, in particular Tesla Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA), claim they already have partially autonomous cars. Waymo is saying it has gone beyond that and that its new technology allows the riders the ability to leave control to technology to start and complete an entire trip.

Several of the world’s largest car companies also have set elaborate and expensive programs to run similar tests.

Waymo’s new program in Phoenix shows that it has advanced to a stage beyond where most other companies in the race are now.