Waymo's fully autonomous cars are about to hit public streets in California

Waymo car

Waymo, the self-driving car arm of Google's parent company Alphabet, has been granted a permit to start testing fully autonomous vehicles on public streets in California. 

California is a popular location for testing autonomous cars, but such trials usually take place on tightly controlled test tracks. Waymo is the first company to be given permission to test cars on real roads with no human drivers behind the wheel.

According to The Verge, Waymo will put its vehicles through their paces in the Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills neighborhoods. 

"We know this area well," the company said in a blog post announcing the news. "It includes the headquarters for Waymo and our parent company, Alphabet. Mountain View is home to more than a dozen autonomous vehicle companies, and has supported safe testing for years."

The green light

The permit will be a welcome sign of progress for Waymo, which suffered embarrassment in August when it was revealed that, despite ambitious plans to deliver a self-driving taxi service in Arizona in 2018, its cars were still struggling to navigate a junction just outside one of the company's offices.

“Our vehicles can safely handle fog and light rain, and testing in those conditions is included in our permit,” the company says. “We will gradually begin driverless testing on city streets in a limited territory and, over time, expand the area that we drive in as we gain confidence and experience to expand.”

The first passengers will be Waymo's own employees, but the company intends to start offering lifts to the public through its Early Rider Program, which is already operating in Arizona.