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Google's Waymo Suspends Rides With Human Drivers, Keeps Rides with Robots-only

By Rich Smith - Mar 17, 2020 at 3:38PM

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Waymo robo-cars will continue to roam the streets of Phoenix, Arizona.

Ride-share operators Uber and Lyft announced today that in response to the coronavirus pandemic, they will be suspending "shared" rides -- rides in which a multiple passengers ride along with the ride-share driver en route to multiple locations. For the duration of the crisis, it seems, rides will be private affairs between one driver and one passenger.

What's the logical next step? Getting rid of the driver, too -- and that's just what Alphabet (GOOG 4.16%) (GOOGL 4.20%) driverless car unit Waymo intends to do.  

Bearded passenger stares at robot driving his car

Image source: Getty Images.

Today, we are in the infancy of driverless cars. Most "driverless" cars do in fact have a driver present, if only to ensure he or she can grab the wheel in an emergency when the car's automation malfunctions.

"In the interest of the health and safety of our riders and the entire Waymo community," however, Waymo announced today that it is "pausing our Waymo One service with trained drivers in Metro Phoenix for now as we continue to watch COVID-19 developments. We've also paused driving in California in line with local guidance." The company continued, explaining that, in the context of the current pandemic, "removing the human driver holds great promise for not only for making our roads safer, but for helping our riders stay healthy in these uncertain times."

To that end, those Waymo cars that continue to operate through the crisis will be entirely driverless, lacking any human co-pilot to grab the wheel if things go wrong.

Speaking of which, there will in fact be some Waymo cars operating. "Our fully driverless operations in Phoenix will continue for now ... along with our local delivery efforts and truck testing."

It takes more than a global pandemic to derail the relentless advancement of technology.

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