Alphabet's Waymo just pulled ahead of the competition.
On Tuesday, the technology giant's autonomous car unit announced that it has deployed roughly 100 vehicles on public roads--without human drivers. That makes it the first company in the potentially multi-trillion dollar category to do so.
"We're not building a better car--we're building a better driver," said Waymo CEO John Krafcik on stage at the Web Summit conference in Lisbon, Portugal. "This is a big step forward to achieving our ultimate goal."
Waymo has been test-driving its vehicles in the Pheonix metro area since 2016--but always with humans ready to intervene.
Meanwhile, rival Uber has been test-driving its own autonomous vehicles with drivers in Pittsburgh. The two companies have been embroiled in a legal battle over the past several months, with Waymo alleging that Anthony Levandowski--a former Uber engineer--stole thousands of trade secrets from Google. Levandowski had left Waymo to launch his own autonomous trucking business, Otto, which Uber purchased last year for $680 million. A trial is set for the beginning of December.
For now, the Waymo vehicles are being tested only in a "geo-fenced" area in the quiet Phoenix suburb of Chandler, about 600 square miles. The vehicles come equipped with advanced sensor technology--called LiDAR--which can detect objects from more than 300 feet away, and in three-dimensions. The vans are completing all different types of driving techniques, including more complicated types of left-hand turns.
Krafcik adds that Waymo intends to launch its own ride-hailing startup with self-driving cars in the not-too-distant future.
The news also comes just weeks after the company agreed to invest $1 billion in ride-hailing giant Lyft. Together, the companies released a safety report outlining the focus on self-driving vehicles.
"When people feel confident and comfortable in a fully self-driving vehicle, more of us will want to use them in our daily lives," Krafcik added on stage. "The way we think about mobility and transportation can fundamentally change, too."