Waymo rider-only self-driving cars are being tested in Phoenix

Self-driving car news has taken a backseat these days and with controversies surrounding Tesla's Autopilot features, you might presume car makers have silently retreated, at least for a short while. That's not the case, of course, but autonomous driving proponents and developers have just become more cautious. In contrast to its usual proud announcements, Waymo is taking a laid back and almost secretive approach to revealing its future plans for its self-driving technology, including private tests of a rider-only service that is currently ongoing in Phoenix.

Self-driving or autonomous cars can mean different things to different people and companies, a point of confusion that may be one of the causes of the industry's thrust being derailed. Tesla's Autopilot features, for example, require the driver to still be at full attention. Other technologies still require someone to be behind the wheel at least.

Waymo, a division of Alphabet just like Google, is definitely more ambitious and it is putting that to the test to a limited degree in Phoenix, Arizona. Speaking to Reuters, Waymo CEO John Krafcik revealed that a rider-only service is in limited testing in the city. He is naturally mum about the details but the revelation alone suggests how confident the company is about its "automated driver".

This news comes together with Krafcik's tweet revealing that Waymo had just opened a factory in Detroit that's 100% dedicated to producing Level 4 or LF autonomous vehicles. L4 refers to full autonomy requiring no human intervention except in emergency circumstances. L4 self-driving cars, however, are still required to have steering wheels.

Waymo is looking to sell its technology to a carmaker to make self-driving cars under the manufacturer's brand or under Waymo's name. It's not stopping there, however, and is already testing its autonomous driver on Peterbilt trucks in Michigan, Arizona, and Georgia. That, however, is a whole different ballgame when it comes to safety and legal requirements.