Waymo Begins its ‘Early Rider' Self-Driving Car Pickups in Phoenix
By Eric Walz
Waymo is allowing the public to help shape the future of self-driving cars in a trail of its self-driving car program. On Tuesday, April 25th (PDT) Waymo announced a public trial of self-driving car pickups. Starting today, early riders who apply will be able to use Waymo's fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans everyday to get to work, school, go to the movies, or go shopping.
Waymo has been testing a fleet of self-driving vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona for the past several years. The early rider program will also be available in nearby cities outside of Phoenix including Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert, and Chandler.
Local area residents who sign up are asked some basic questions, such as their home address where they can be picked up. Riders can also choose up to three frequently visited destinations in the Phoenix metropolitan area, so pickups and drop offs can be arranged by Waymo's self-driving minivans at these locations.
Waymo welcomes rider feedback to make improvements
Riders in the program are encouraged to share feedback about their thoughts and experiences with Waymo, so it can make improvements in the future.
"Over the course of this trial, we'll be accepting hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs who want to ride in and give feedback about Waymo's self-driving cars," the company said.
The program is much different than Uber's self-driving pilot program, which Uber is also testing the Phoenix area. With Uber's program, a rider can only request a short, single, one-way trip via the Uber app to their destination in one of Uber's self-driving Volvo XC90's. However, participants in Google's early rider program can access the service everyday, sort of like having a personal self-driving minivan shuttle they can summon as needed.
"Rather than offering people one or two rides, the goal of this program is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that's about twice the size of San Francisco."
To accommodate hundreds of new riders on a daily basis, the company is deploying another 500 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in the Phoenix metro area, a substantial increase in the size of its current self-driving test fleet.
It appears that Google is concerned about the customer experience in addition to advancing its self-driving car technology. "We'll learn things like where people want to go in a self-driving car, how they communicate with our vehicles, and what information and controls they want to see inside," the company wrote. This perhaps hints at a rumored self-driving taxi type service being offered by Waymo in the near future.
Recently, one of Uber's self-driving Volvo's was involved in an accident in Phoenix. The accident was blamed on a noncompliant driver, not a fault with Uber's autonomous technology. Although there were no passengers in Uber's Volvo, the incident brought attention to the risks of testing self-driving cars on public roads. Waymo's vehicles will have a human operator to monitor the vehicle's self-driving systems and take control if necessary.
Google was one of the first companies developing autonomous technology when they began testing in 2009. According to California DMV records, Waymo has logged 635,868 miles of autonomous driving on public roads in California alone in 2016.
The competition between companies to be the first to introduce self-driving cars is heated. Google recently filed a lawsuit against Uber for the alleged theft of trade secrets by former Google employee Anthony Levandowski, who now heads Uber's self-driving car efforts.
Waymo has not said if it will launch its early rider program in cities other than Phoenix in the near future. However, Waymo is currently testing self-driving vehicles in Kirkland, WA, Mountain View, CA, and Austin, TX. The fleet has already driven over 3 million miles on public roads, without a single major incident.
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