Waymo, a spin-off of Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL), launched its Waymo One self-driving commercial service in the metropolitan Phoenix area Wednesday morning. About 400 people who took part in a company pilot program are getting a head start on using the Chrysler Pacifica minivans Waymo is deploying.
The lucky 400 will get a mobile app they can use to call the Waymo One vehicles 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The company has not revealed how many of the minivans will be deployed, but a post at Medium.com said the service will be available in the greater Phoenix area, including surrounding cities such as Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and Gilbert. The vehicles are able to accommodate three adults and one child.
Riders will get a price estimate before they accept the trip, and the cars will be dispatched with a human driver for the time being. A fully automated self-driving vehicle is unlikely to be available for several years yet, due both to lack of regulation and still-developing technology.
Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a separate blog post that the company is exploring a single question: “How can we best use fully self-driving technology to make roads safer?”
David Liniado, vice president for new business at Cox Automotive, commented:
Today’s launch of Waymo One, after ten years of development by the Google team, is a milestone. Waymo’s focus on consumer acceptance, experience and the complexities of local regulations has positioned Waymo to reach this critical step, well ahead of the competition. The operational aspects of scaling this business model will continue to be a key focus as the market moves from this pilot to a viable alternative for communities beyond Phoenix.
Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, added:
Much of the energy surrounding autonomous vehicles has focused on the technological hurdles and how long it will take to overcome them. While many technology hurdles remain, and must be addressed, there is also a broad spectrum of non-tech-based challenges to resolve. Waymo’s early rider program is allowing the company to identify these issues, and its new Waymo One service will expand the company’s feedback system into a real-world business application. In the race for the self-driving car this information is invaluable.
For a look at how the system works, see this Medium post.