Waymo will soon expand its driverless ride hailing service to include the general public. The self-driving arm of Google's parent company, Alphabet, announced the news on Thursday, stating that its program will soon expand from the several hundred "early riders" to anyone in Phoenix, Arizona who happens to want a ride through its Waymo One app.
Existing riders will be able to bring family and friends along for driverless rides in Waymo's fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans as of Thursday. However, if you’re a new rider in the Phoenix area and download the Waymo app today, you’ll be placed on a waitlist to use Waymo's services—that wait might not be as long as you'd expect, though. The company says that in the coming weeks, it plans to expand its driverless ride hailing offer to new riders.
Currently the driverless offering for Waymo One members is limited to the company's operations in a roughly 50-square-mile area, which is roughly eight percent of the greater Phoenix region. Every day, Waymo's fleet of vehicles travel the same roads, training its models as they learn the environment in their design domain—and that's only a fraction of the 20 million miles that the company has driven on-road to date. So it makes sense for Waymo to first expand its services in an environment where the vehicles have been trained to operate without a driver for years.
In March, Waymo elected to pause its services in Phoenix amid the emerging COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the health of the safety drivers who are placed behind the wheel in some Waymo vehicles. But its driverless offerings were still available, albeit with added safety precautions and more frequent cleaning in place for riders' health.
CEO John Krafcik says that 100 percent of its rides will become fully driverless in the "near term" and adds that they expect it to be extremely popular. Given Waymo's fleet is currently estimated to be between 300 and 400 vehicles in Phoenix, the demand could prove to be overwhelming at first, especially as potential ride hailing customers look for the excitement created by a driverless experience rather than simply summoning an Uber or Lyft.
And at least for now, those operations will still be limited to Phoenix, but the company hopes for that to change in the future. Krafcik said in a statement to Bloomberg that Waymo would love the opportunity to bring its driverless services to the company's home state of California. Waymo plans to relaunch its operations with trained safety drivers later this year in other markets.
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