The first man to use one of Google’s driverless cars without any human back-up controls in place has been revealed as the tech giant’s inspiration for pushing the project.
Steve Mahan, who is registered blind and the former director of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center in California, used one of Google’s cars without a steering wheel or brake pads and was driven around a neighbourhood in Austin, Texas last year.
It was this journey in October 2015 – which came after the company spent six months analysing its technology before allowing the drive to take place – that convinced them to turn the project into a fully-fledged company, Google says.
They have now revealed their self-driving car project has made that move and will be called Waymo.
CEO John Krafcik said the company is “getting close and we are getting ready” for a full launch of their cars.
“We’ve talked a lot about the two million miles we’ve driven on public roads. Now we’ve driven another million miles on public roads,” he said, adding that Waymo plans to not build its own cars but rather license its technology to others.
He also called Mahan’s experience in the car an “inflection point” for the technology.
“It is like driving with a very good driver,” Mahan told the Washington Post of his trial.
“It was so much fun, being aware that the vehicle was navigating intersections, and I was in good hands, perfectly safe.”
Self-driving and autonomous cars continue to rapidly approach every day contact with consumers – Uber has just rolled out a handful of autonomous cars for pick-ups in San Francisco – though they will come complete with a human driver who can take over if and when needed.