Waymo's Commerical Driverless Taxi Service Launches in Arizona

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【Summary】Waymo made some history today by launching the first ever commercial driverless shuttle service in Arizona.The service is called Waymo One and riders can use the company’s smartphone app to summon a ride in one of Waymo’s driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Eric Walz    Jan 11, 2019 11:56 AM PT
Waymo's Commerical Driverless Taxi Service Launches in Arizona

Chandler, AZ — Waymo made some history today by launching the first ever commercial driverless shuttle service in Arizona.The service is called Waymo One and riders can use the company's smartphone app to summon a ride in one of Waymo's driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

For now, there will be a human driver behind the wheel ready to take over in any unexpected situations. However, the Pacifica minivans will for the most part drive autonomously without intervention.

Waymo, the self-driving arm of parent company Alphabet has been in the Phoenix metro area for the past two years mapping streets and testing its autonomous technology in preparation for the launch of Waymo One.

The platform is similar to Uber or Lyft, with rider using Waymo's smartphone app to summon a ride. Riders provide their credit card information and will be charged for each ride. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Pricing is about the same as using Uber or Lyft. A 15-minute, 3-mile drive taken by Reuters last week cost $7.59, just above the $7.22 offered by Lyft.

Waymo first invited members of the public to experience riding in a self-driving minivan beginning in April 2017 with its Early Rider Program. The program was designed to collect feedback from riders and learn how the public might use the service on a daily basis. The feedback from early riders was used by Waymo to improve the service.

Waymo invited Reuters a test ride in a white Chrysler Pacifica hybrid modified with the company's self-driving technology on the streets of Chandler, Ariz. near Phoenix.

According to Reuters, the Pacifica minivans have iPad like video screens built into the seat backs for passengers to view from the backseat. The screens display a "Good afternoon, Waymo Rider." message to riders as they enter the vehicle. During the journey, the monitors showed the car's route and location on a map. Riders can tap a button on the display to summon a live Waymo operator that will answer any questions during the trip.

Reuters compared the automated driving to that of a student driver, saying it was "slow and timid".

For example, it stopped for a man standing at a crosswalk talking on his cell phone even though it was clear that he was not going to cross the street.

The car slowed well ahead of stop signs and drove slowly over speed bumps, according to Reuters. However, the minivan sometimes executed lane changes abruptly, as an automated voice over the speaker system called out "left" or "right."  Waymo says the voice prompts help riders understand what the car is doing next.

In another part of the trip Waymo's vehicle demonstrated more impressive driving skills. Reuters said that the Waymo minivan successfully crossed three lanes of oncoming traffic to execute a left turn into a parking lot, some that is quite challenging for self-driving software.

Waymo is considered the industry leader in the development and rollout of self-driving technology. The company has been testing its driverless cars since 2009 as part of Google's early self-driving car project.

Waymo beat Uber and GM's Cruise Automation and many other startups to be the first company to launch a commercial driverless ride-hailing service. Ride-hailing giant Uber planned to launch is own autonomous driving service, however a pedestrian fatality involving one of Uber's self driving Volvo's in Arizona resulted in Uber suspending its testing to reevaluate its technology.

At present, Waymo's driverless fleet has grown to approximately 600 vehicles. Eariler this year, Waymo announced it would add the new electric Jaguar I-Pace SUV to its fleet of driverless vehicles. The company has logged more than 10 million miles on public roads in 25 U.S. cities.

In a blog post, Waymo CEO John Krafcik wrote that Waymo hopes to make the Waymo One service available to even more members of the public, as it adds more vehicles to its driverless fleet and expands to other cities. However, Waymo intends to proceed cautiously.

"Self-driving technology is new to many, so we're proceeding carefully with the comfort and convenience of our riders in mind." Krafcik wrote in a blog post.

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