Google has renamed its self-driving car company Waymo igniting rumours that the technology giant is gearing up to publicly launch the service.

Launched in 2009, Google’s self-driving car programme first began testing autonomous vehicles on US public roads in 2015, and claims to have covered more than 2m miles over its four test cities.

The new name, according to Waymo’s website, stands for “a new way forward in mobility”, and the company announced plans to allow public trials, though did not provide a timescale.

The move to drive Waymo out of the secretive Google X research department came after rivals stepped up their autonomous efforts this year, including Uber teaming up with Volvo, and Apple announcing driverless vehicles as one of their ‘long-term plans’. Waymo will operate independently of Google under parent company Alphabet.

Claiming to have reached “an inflection point”, Waymo’s chief executive John Krafcik told reporters at a San Francisco press conference that the company was “close to bringing this [technology] to a lot of people.”

Krafcik said: “It’s an indication of the maturity of our technology. We can imagine our self-driving tech being used in all sorts of areas.”

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However, Krafcik emphasised that Waymo was focused on producing the technology rather than the vehicles themselves, deploying modified Lexus SUVs in addition to its own prototypes.