Waymo starts offering driverless rides to general public
Google/Alphabet daugther Waymo is starting in Phoenix to expand its ride-hailing service to the general public without a human driver behind the wheel. So far, there was always a driver to intervene when needed, except for a small group of early riders under a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).
From Thursday on, more regular Waymo One clients are offered fully driverless rides in a ‘geo-fenced area’ of Phoenix of some 240 square km. Mostly less challenging areas with straight streets and lots of visibility. But within a few weeks, Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced, the general public will get access to the ‘robocabs’ via a special app available in Google Play and the App Store.
Early in 2020, Waymo offered the driverless option to a select group of ‘early riders’ that agreed with it, signing an NDA. The area was limited to 120 square km, and only 5 to 10% of the rides were actually driverless. Now the service is extended to the group of Waymo One subscribers, who always had a safety person aboard.
Waymo was quite confident for its early riders’ safety but wanted to finetune the service with their help. They say they wanted to test whether “the product was delivering satisfaction and delight for them,” as the CEO told CrunhTech. Although the driverless rides were free for the test group, the service will be paying from now on. And Waymo expects it to be a great success.
Jaguar i-Pace to join
The Waymo One’s ride-hailing service covers a larger Phoenix area up to 240 square km in suburbs like Chandler. Some 3 to 400 Chrysler Pacific Hybrid minivans are driving around of a total fleet of 600. Waymo doesn’t want to give detailed figures of how many of them will drive without a human behind the wheel.
Meanwhile, the company developed a fully autonomous version of the electric Jaguar i-Pace, of which it ordered 20 000 units. The first Jaguars will hit the streets in the next weeks too. Some of the rides offered by Waymo One will be driverless, others with a safety person. But within a few weeks, everybody can use the extended service in Phoenix via the app.
That smartphone app will warn its users in a quite original way: “Congrats! This car is all yours, with no driver upfront. This ride will be different, with no one else in the car. Waymo will do all the driving. Enjoy this ride!”
Milestone for the autonomous cab
Breaking open the fully driverless rides to the general public is a milestone for the Google daughter that is considered a leader in autonomous driving. When a driver’s presence in the car is no longer required, it’s called ‘SAE Level 4 autonomous driving’. It still requires a secure – geo-fenced – environment under normal conditions, though.
In the next level, five, the driverless car will be capable of making all decisions autonomously in all circumstances under all kinds of weather and traffic conditions. But that’s a level that critics say is still years away.
Advocates like Tesla’s Elon Musk predicted earlier that “millions of Level 5 autonomous cars would drive the streets in 2020”. But that appeared, to put it mildly: “overestimation of one’s powers”. Today Tesla’s Autopilot is considered Level 3 with a driver needing to keep his hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.