- self-driving-car startup waymo has offered "early rider" customers the chance to opt in to rides in a completely driverless car.
- the waymo driver technology has undergone 10 million miles of public-road testing around the u.s., the company says.
- waymo's fleet includes jaguar i-pace suvs and chrysler pacifica minivans adapted to operate as self-driving vehicles.
waymo riders in phoenix are about to get an unusual opportunity. recently, waymo sent emails to members of its "early riders" list, telling them that "completely driverless waymo cars are on the way." while all of waymo's vehicles are technically self-driving, until now waymo vehicles used by the public have had a person in the role of safety driver sitting in the driver's seat, ready to take over if the ai needed help.
now the company is about to dispense with that person altogether, allowing waymo riders to have the ride all to themselves.
the self-driving technology waymo has been developing for more than 10 years is called the waymo driver. the technology was given a green light during its time with google, waymo's former owner, after 10 successful 100-mile ai-vehicle test drives in san francisco in 2009 and 2010. (google and waymo are now both alphabet companies.)
those early positive results led to more than 10 million miles of testing on public roads and 10 billion miles in simulation in more than 25 cities around the united states.
waymo uses two different self-driving vehicles in phoenix: chrysler pacifica minivans and jaguar i-pace suvs. speaking at the frankfurt auto show last month, waymo ceo john krafcik said the company has been testing fully driverless vehicles since 2017, but only on a small scale. "we've begun to responsibly ramp up our driverless offerings to riders in the metro phoenix area," he said.
when a rider is matched with one of these fully autonomous vehicles without a human behind the wheel in the waymo app, they will get a special notification that the robot taxi is on the way and will be presented with some information about the technology and what to expect. if a rider isn't comfortable without someone sitting in the driver's seat, they may cancel their "driverless" ride by contacting rider support and will then be placed in a vehicle with a waymo-trained driver.
waymo says the driverless rides will be available for users "soon" but would not offer any more details about when that would be. waymo has also announced it has signed an agreement with renault and nissan "to explore mobility services for passengers and deliveries in france and japan," krafcik said.
human-free driverless vehicle technologies are not limited to waymo, of course. tesla recently updated its "summon" feature, which allows the electric vehicle to slowly maneuver in a parking lot without anyone inside to come find the person holding the key fob. however, that technology has gotten the attention of nhtsa, and the agency is in ongoing contact with tesla to determine that it is safe. while they battle that one out, some people are using the driverless car in simple pranks, like staging a situation where a driverless tesla gets pulled over by a cop.