Google’s self-driving car program started as a secret project in the company’s “Google X” research arm, but it didn’t stay there. Google spun it off into Waymo as part of the Alphabet reorganization several years ago. Waymo has been quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) testing autonomous driving technology, and now it’s finally rolling out to consumers in Arizona. People can order a car, and it’ll show up to take them where they need to go without a human ever touching the wheel.
The company feels confident enough in the roughly 10 million hours of practice driving to make this a real service that people pay to use, and it’s called Waymo One. Waymo has been testing its self-driving tech in the Phoenix area for a few years with the help of volunteer early riders. The company has outfitted Chrysler minivans with a suite of sensors like lidar and high-resolution cameras to scan the world around the car. Advanced machine learning algorithms recognize objects and maintain the vehicle’s position on the road while avoiding obstacles.
The service available 24 hours a day, seven days a week via the Waymo One app in the metro Phoenix area. That included Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert. When you request a ride, the app shows you the estimated price and the route the car plans to take. It’s not clear why the price is only an estimate — perhaps Waymo charges by actual mileage?
At first, Waymo One cars will still have a human safety driver behind the wheel. Waymo says the human component is there to “supervise our vehicles for riders’ comfort and convenience.” If everything goes to plan, the person behind the wheel should not need to intervene at all. Still, having a person overseeing the car will help hesitant consumers get used to the idea of a self-driving car. Waymo says it will also put people at ease with an in-car console that shows trip progress, access to support agents, and a “pull over” option.
Waymo One is only available to a small group of consumers who also participated in the early rider program. Waymo plans to gradually expand availability over the coming months. Current riders are also limited to a maximum of three adults and one child per ride. That’s something Waymo can enforce with a human safety driver in the car, but people might try to crowd in when the cars drive on their own. There are a lot of issues to work out, not all of them technical.
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