October 8, 2020 | technology | No Comments
- Waymo is now offering a fully-driverless ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area, where the Alphabet company has been piloting its business since 2018.
- The fully-driverless option will apply to a 50-square-mile area at first, and early users will be customers who have been testing the service.
- Waymo also said that it would be resuming rides with a human safety driver, after pausing the service when he coronavirus pandemic struck earlier this year.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Waymo is launching a fully driverless option for its ride-hail service in Phoenix, the Alphabet subsidiary that started life as Google’s self-driving car project announced on Thursday, a milestone in the company’s decade-long journey to wrest control of the car away from humans.
As of now, riders who order a car through the Waymo One ride-hail service can get a vehicle without a human safety driver behind the wheel, ready to take over in case of trouble. The option will be limited to a 50-square-mile chunk of the Phoenix area to start, CEO John Krafcik said in a media briefing, and will expand over time.
“In the near term, 100% of our rides will be fully driverless,” the company said in a statement. “We expect our new fully driverless service to be very popular, and we’re thankful to our riders for their patience as we ramp up availability to serve demand.”
For now, the totally driverless option will be limited to users who are already Waymo One users. “We’ll start with those who are already a part of Waymo One and, over the next several weeks, welcome more people directly into the service through our app,” the company said in a statement.
Waymo One launched in the Phoenix area in late 2018, using a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans, usually with a human backup aboard. Since the end of 2019, Waymo — which became a standalone Alphabet subsidiary in late 2016 — has been piloting a driverless offering limited to a small group of customers.
A pandemic pause
Waymo paused some aspects of its service at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic but kept the fully-driverless service in business.
Now it expects to resume monitored rides, with human observers sitting behind the wheel.
“Later this year, after we’ve finished adding in-vehicle barriers between the front row and the rear passenger cabin for in-vehicle hygiene and safety, we’ll also be re-introducing rides with a trained vehicle operator, which will add capacity and allow us to serve a larger geographical area,” the company said.
A fully-driverless service is the elusive goal of the incipient ride-hail industry, but with the exception of testing various technologies in confined geographical areas and undertaking modest pilot programs, companies such as Waymo and General Motors-supported Cruise have been extremely deliberate about taking the plunge and removing human drivers from the front seat.
According to Waymo, 5-10% of its rides in 2020 have been fully driverless, working with a small group of users who have signed non-disclosure agreements to participate.
Waymo has been billing customers for the service, which can be accessed through Apple and Android smartphone apps. A Waymo spokesperson said prices are based on time and the trip’s distance, and that customers have said the costs are “reasonable and competitive with other services.”
That position has been backed up by Business Insider’s reporting: Waymo early riders reported a base fare on the order of $5, with overall costs below Uber during “surge pricing” periods.
Pricing is an interesting subplot of the self-driving industry, as companies are investing billions to take drivers out of the equation, greatly reducing the embedded cost of labor in the traditional taxi business with an increase in safety and pace of operations. Robotaxis could run 24/7, so in theory companies such as Waymo could offer riders low-cost trips and still post considerable profits.