Waymo One, the Alphabet subsidiary’s self-driving ride-hailing service, has been operating in the Phoenix, Arizona area for a couple years. Through its app, the public has the opportunity to hail a ride in a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan, albeit with a safety operator in the driver’s seat, just in case. Now, though, it appears Waymo is ready to drop the training wheels.
Waymo announced on Thursday that it will begin offering fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area through its. This year so far, Waymo says that up to 10% of its rides have been sans safety operator, with a select few members of the service taking these rides under a non-disclosure agreement. These folks gave Waymo the feedback it needed to feel confident enough to bring more riders into the fold.
This service won’t be available to every Phoenician immediately. Waymo is taking a graduated approach to its driverless rollout, starting with people who are already signed up for the Waymo One service. The company will also expand the number of people, although it did not offer specific numbers.
Waymo said in its press release that, for the time being, 100% of its rides will be fully driverless. While that’s definitely a leap forward compared to even a few days ago, there’s a pretty good reason for it: The novel. Over the rest of this year, Waymo will outfit its fleet with barriers between the front and rear rows “for in-vehicle hygiene and safety,” as the press release notes. Once that happens, the company will reintroduce safety operators for some of its rides, which should increase both overall capacity and the area in which Waymo One operates.
Currently, Waymo One works within a 50-square-mile area of Phoenix, larger than the city of San Francisco. Operations were paused briefly after the pandemic hit and CEO John Krafcik said that since then, riders have not been in any situations where they would be in close proximity to a safety operator.
Roadshow’s own Tim Stevensback in late 2018, when the service was just getting started. With a safety operator in the driver’s seat, the Pacifica handled traffic, pedestrians and cyclists “cleanly,” albeit creating plenty of leeway between the van and anything around it. Safety first, after all. The vans are outfitted with displays that help translate what the vehicle “sees” into something the riders can visualize for additional peace of mind. It’s some very cool stuff and we’re excited to see where Waymo One goes next.