Waymo says it has launched the first publicly available commercial self-driving ride service. It is starting to let the public take rides in it.
While the ‘public’ in this case is really a few hundred pre-selected people in the Phoenix area, Waymo is calling this ‘a small but important first step to launching an actual driverless ride-sharing service.’
These initial users were all part of Waymo’s ‘Early Rider’ test program, so they’ve ridden in these vans before. The big difference is now they’ll be allowed to invite others to ride with them — as many as four people can fit in the van — and they’ll be able to speak publicly about the experience, including posting about it on social media.
These customers will not be stepping into vans with empty driver’s seats, though. Waymo will have an employee in the driver’s seat ready to take over if the need arises. They call it a fail-safe measure.
The service, called Waymo One, will operate 24 hours a day giving rides in the Phoenix area. Over time, the service will expand to cover more cities. It will be available to more riders than just the test group, Waymo CEO John Krafcik wrote in a blog post.
Planes may hold the secret to safe self-driving cars.
Rides will be requested through an Uber-like smartphone app Waymo has created. This app will allow users select pickup and drop-off locations and see a price estimate for the ride. The pricing strategy is part of what Waymo is working out with these more public rides. The pricing and software have been under development in the more secretive ‘Early Rider’ program. It will undergo more development in the public Waymo One program, a Waymo spokesperson said.
Up until now, much of the research into autonomous driving has been around figuring out technical issues. Waymo is taking another step in working through some of the other challenges, such as creating a service that’s easy to use and meets riders’ needs.
‘Waymo’s early rider program is allowing the company to identify these issues, and its new Waymo One service will expand the company’s feedback system into a real-world business application,’ Brauer said. ‘In the race for the self-driving car, this information is invaluable.’
A company called May Mobility has been offering driverless rides to the general public in select Midwestern cities. Those rides have been on regular fixed routes in vehicles that travel no more than 25 miles an hour.