Alphabet Inc. subsidiary Waymo probably has the largest and most advanced fleet of automated vehicles in the world today.
Thus it seems a bit ironic that getting a first ride in one of the company's Chrysler Pacifica hybrids required a four and a half hour transcontinental flight and a two and a half hour bus ride. But despite having test fleets roaming the streets of at least half a dozen American metropolitan areas, this week Waymo finally invited the media out for a look into its program at a top-secret location in California's central valley.
The roots of Waymo lie in the DARPA Grand Challenge program for automated vehicles. Over a three year span from 2004 through 2007, teams comprised of engineers and researchers from many universities, automakers and suppliers tried to design and build vehicles that could drive themselves first over an off-road desert course and then around a simulated urban environment on a former military base. In 2006, a team from Stanford University and Volkswagen won the off-road challenge. The following year a team from Carnegie Mellon University with support from General Motors took the urban crown. In January of 2008, in a parking lot outside of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I got my first ride in a Chevy Tahoe with no one sitting behind the steering wheel.
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