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Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies before the House Judiciary Committee

Waymo launches first US commercial self-driving taxi service

Almost ten years after Google secretly started work on technology that would allow a vehicle to operate without a human driver, the company has launched the nation’s first commercial self-driving robo-taxi.

Waymo, a subsidiary of Google, introduced a small fleet of ride-hailing vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona, asking people to pay, just as they would to travel by Uber or Lyft. For now, the project will also feature a human driver behind the wheel, just in case the robotic vehicle malfunctions.

“Over time, we hope to make Waymo One available to even more members of the public Self-driving technology is new to many, so we’re proceeding carefully,” Waymo’s CEO John Krafcik, wrote in a blog post about Wednesday’s run-out.

He added: “Almost 10 years ago, we were founded as the Google self-driving car project to explore one simple question: how can we best use fully self-driving technology to make roads safer? We’ve been focused on building the world’s most experienced driver ever since.”

The Associated Press said the debut marked a significant milestone for the Google subsidiary, which started its work amid great secrecy in 2009. Since then, its cars have robotically logged more 10m miles on public roads in 25 cities in California, Arizona, Washington, Michigan and Georgia.

The decision to launch the robo-taxi in Arizona was not a matter of chance. The state has fewer regulations on self-driving cars than most states. Federal guidance on the matter has yet to be put in place.

As it was, the launch in Phoenix was taking place just ten miles from Tempe, where an Uber car using robotic technology hit and killed a pedestrian crossing a darkened street in March. That fatal collision triggered international attention and raised concerns as to whether the technology was truly yet safe.

“I suspect the Uber fatality has caused Waymo to slow down its pace a bit” and use human safety drivers in its ride-hailing service,” Navigant research analyst Sam Abuelsamid told the AP. “If people keep dying, there will be a bigger backlash against these vehicles.”

Google is not the only player in the battle to tap into a potentially huge driverless vehicle market. Uber and Toyota began a partnership to develop such cars in August, despite the deadly incident in Tempe. Meanwhile, Honda made a $2bn investment in General Motors’s driverless technology project in October.

Google service, called Waymo One, will at first only be available to a couple hundred riders, all of whom had already been taking part in a free pilot programme that began in April 2017. It will be confined to a roughly 100-square-mile area around Phoenix.

Reuters said when it took a test ride last week, the journey was “slow and jerky” at times. It said the 15-minute, 3-mile drive cost $7.59, a little more than the $7.22 fare offered by Lyft for the same journey.

OnePlus to make first 5G phone in Europe with EE, company claims

OnePlus is going to make the first 5G phone available in Europe, the company has said.

The decision could entirely change the way that phones work and will introduce a transformative technology to the UK, Andy Lau, OnePlus’s chief executive and founder, told The Independent.

The phone maker has teamed up with EE to make the handset available, aiming to have it ready for users in 2019. The two companies have signed a research and development partnership that will help deliver much faster and more reliable internet connections across the UK, they said.

5G technology has become one of the most discussed possibilities in technology, offering connections faster even than WiFi and potentially disrupting the way that the internet and industry works.

But the promise has been clouded by concerns about infrastructure and questions about when the technology required to make it work will arrive.

Now OnePlus has said it will be able to introduce those long-promised features next year, as a result of intense work to bring it to consumers.

“Since OnePlus started, only five years ago, we’ve been dedicated to bringing people the best possible experience – truly fast and smooth,” said Mr Lau. ”5G is a natural extension for us, and a very important one.

“Our users are passionate and want the best tech and the best software, with flexibility and versatility to do everything from graphically intensive gaming, through to capturing and editing super slow motion video, or multitasking for work. That makes life challenging for us.

“5G is going to open up a lot of new ways people use their smartphone – the increased speed combined with the increased capacity mean your smartphone can now truly be the centre of a connected experience, for everything from fitness to home automation.”

The announcement that OnePlus’s phone will be the first available in Europe comes despite the fact that other manufacturers – including giants like Samsung – have promised to bring their own devices to the network as soon as possible.

Asked whether he was concerned that rivals would beat OnePlus to market despite its claim to being the first, Mr Lau said that there are “obviously no guarantees” but that his company were best positioned to be ready with the cutting-edge technology first.

“We started working on 5G in 2016, and developed an R&D lab with Qualcomm in 2017,” he said. “OnePlus has always used Qualcomm 800 series chipsets as part of our flagship-only strategy, and this is part of the reason for the excellent relationship we have with one of the world’s leading chipset providers.

“No-one is better positioned than OnePlus to take the lead with 5G. We don’t really look at what others are doing in the industry, we’re focused on providing the best possible experience for our users, and we recognised early on that 5G would be a huge opportunity for revolution.”

Others, such as Apple, are rumoured to have sat out the decision until at least 2020, allowing other companies to take the first leap – and deal with the potential for the kinds of major infrastructure problems that have blighted similar rollouts in the past. Mr Lau said that OnePlus would work hard to ensure those problems didn’t hit this time around.

“OnePlus is strategic with how we choose our partners – we work with Qualcomm, the best in the world, and we’re also working with EE, who pioneered 4G in the UK,” he said. ”EE customers are early-adopters, they read and research before they make purchases and we’re confident they’ll have vast knowledge of 5G. Those early adopters know that, as with the launch of 4G, there won’t be 5G coverage everywhere at first but it’ll be a rapid rollout from networks.”

Proponents have regularly suggested that 5G could change the way that people use phones, allowing people to take advantage of instant and reliable connections to create new forms of experience. Mr Lau echoed those claims, suggesting they may be transformative in ways that the company has not even expected.

“When you look at the history of smartphones, they’re used in ways today which no-one had designed them for originally,” he said. ”5G will be the same – the possibilities will open up in front of us as people experiment with how to combine speed and capacity – everything from gaming through to work or fitness will change. We’re constantly doing research with users and partners to ensure we have a fast and smooth experience no-matter what.”