Waymo, the self driving arm of Alphabet which in turn is the parent company of Google, is feeling confident the autonomous cars it has created in cooperation with Chrysler are now ready for their first real world use without a human driver on board. After months of testing in and around Phoenix, Arizona, the company says it will soon be ready to begin allowing those cars to provide ride hailing services to paying customers in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. It then plans to extend the service to the entire Phoenix area, which is larger in area than London (although much less densely populated.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik gave demonstration rides to members of the press, including Darrell Etheridge of TechCrunch, on November 7. He writes, “Waymo’s stated goal is to ensure safer roads for everyone, and after having spent some time in the fully driverless Pacifica that will be operating in Chandler, I’m more convinced than ever they’re on a path to make this happen. Bringing that truly driverless Level 4 experience to public roads and public riders is a huge step, and a sign we could be hailing an autonomous ride sooner than you might think.”
By using the Waymo app, customers in the Phoenix area will be able to summon a self driving Chrysler Pacifica to their door to go shopping, get to school, or drive to any destination within the defined area of operation. They also will be able to use the app to communicate directly with a member of Waymo’s customer service staff at any time. Early in the experiment, each Pacifica will have a Waymo employee on board who has access to an emergency stop button, but the company plans to move quickly beyond that phase to true Level 4 autonomy where the only humans in the vehicles are customers.
Waymo has ordered up another 400 autonomous Pacificas from Chrysler, bringing the total in their fleet to 500. Waymo now appears to have the early lead in the self driving ride hailing sweepstakes. Expect this service to expand beyond the Phoenix area rapidly if the experiment there proves successful. Check out the video below for a glimpse of what the world looks like inside a self driving Pacifica taxi.