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Waymo Offers Robocar Rides to the Public

Select customers in Phoenix can now hail rides from the company's robocar fleet, which it is expanding by 500 vehicles

1 min read
waymo robotaxi in phoenix
Photo: Waymo

For a month now, Waymo has been offering rides in its robocars to select customers in Phoenix, Ariz. To help expand the ridership, the company is adding 500 vehicles to its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, a sixfold increase.

A customer hails a ride through a phone app; when it arrives, there will be a professional driver behind the wheel who can take over should the software get flummoxed. Waymo’s record for such human interventions is far and away the best in the business, at a mere 1 instance for every 800 kilometers traveled.

You can apply for the free service if you live in certain parts of the Phoenix area and are at least 18 years old. The robotaxi will take you only on trips within the environs, which Waymo says covers twice the area of San Francisco.

Waymo chief executive John Krafcik said in a blog post that the ride-hailing experiment represents a shift in emphasis away from the purely technical side of the robocar problem. “Now, with this program, we’re turning our attention to the people who will benefit from this technology,” said Krafcik in a blog post.

The move follows similar, but smaller, pilot programs begun by Uber, in Pittsburgh, and NuTonomy, in Singapore. Both of those companies plan to expand their services to other areas. 

Offering the service for free certainly must improve customer satisfaction, as is evident in the smiles on the faces of the family depicted in Waymo’s video. It serves to remind us that all these pilot programs are meant not only to provide feedback but also to promote the companies’ brands. Take a look:

The Conversation (0)

Self-Driving Cars Work Better With Smart Roads

Intelligent infrastructure makes autonomous driving safer and less expensive

9 min read
A photograph shows a single car headed toward the viewer on the rightmost lane of a three-lane road that is bounded by grassy parkways, one side of which is planted with trees. In the foreground a black vertical pole is topped by a crossbeam bearing various instruments. 

This test unit, in a suburb of Shanghai, detects and tracks traffic merging from a side road onto a major road, using a camera, a lidar, a radar, a communication unit, and a computer.

Shaoshan Liu

Enormous efforts have been made in the past two decades to create a car that can use sensors and artificial intelligence to model its environment and plot a safe driving path. Yet even today the technology works well only in areas like campuses, which have limited roads to map and minimal traffic to master. It still can’t manage busy, unfamiliar, or unpredictable roads. For now, at least, there is only so much sensory power and intelligence that can go into a car.

To solve this problem, we must turn it around: We must put more of the smarts into the infrastructure—we must make the road smart.

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