Waymo, the Alphabet (Google)-owned driverless car service, is significantly expanding operations in Phoenix, Arizona. After a two-month trial available to only a handful of approved testers, Phoenix-area residents at large can now apply to catch a driverless ride wherever they’re going.
This represents the beginning of the mainstreaming of what’s been, until now, considered a far-off technology. As shown in Waymo’s promotional video, this stuff is real, and it’s here now.
“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,” writes Waymo CEO John Krafcik.
According to Krafcik, the idea behind the expansion is that now that Waymo has dialed in the technology, the company wants to learn the habits of potential users: where, when, and how often people request rides, what comforts and controls they desire, what info they expect from the vehicle, etc.
Additionally, Waymo announced it is adding another 500 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans to the road in Phoenix — a sixfold increase to its fleet.
A robust driverless car service like this could spell panic for Uber, whose own driverless car program has had, uh, mixed results before ever approaching this scale. Speaking to Business Insider last year, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick admitted, "If we are not tied for first [in creating a driverless car service], then the person… or the entity that's in first then rolls out a ride-sharing network that is far cheaper or far higher-quality than Uber's, then Uber is no longer a thing.” Another wrinkle to this story is that Google is suing Uber for allegedly stealing a key piece of driverless car technology.
There are two key takeaways from this Waymo news: Google is handily leading the pack when it comes to inventing our driverless future, and if you live in Phoenix, you ought to sign up here to see what Waymo’s all about.