Waymo Already Looking to Expand "Rider Only" Autonomous Taxi Service

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【Summary】Riders in Phoenix, Arizona may be picked up in an autonomous Waymo robo-taxi soon, as the company recently started offering “rider-only” trips in the city at the end of October.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Dec 17, 2019 6:00 AM PT
Waymo Already Looking to Expand

Waymo's been testing self-driving minivans with safety drivers watching over everything for a few years now. Phoenix, Arizona has been one of Waymo's prime locals for testing, as the company went south for its warm weather, large roads, and friendly outlook on autonomous cars. From the beginning, Waymo was using its testing in Phoenix, and other cities, as a way to see how realistic autonomous robo-taxis are. To that end, Waymo is taking another step, as it's letting its autonomous cars loose.

Robo-Taxis Have Arrived
According to Reuters, Waymo Chief Executive John Krafcik stated that the ride-hailing company started to offer "rider-only" trips in its autonomous vehicles in Phoenix at the end of October. The outlet claims that the move is being done to see how much revenue it can generate in the future without the need for human drivers.
We've already covered Waymo's move to start shuttling passengers without a human safety driver, but Krafcik is already looking to when the company will be able to roll out a mass autonomous service. Apparently, being first isn't enough – you have to have a long-term plan in place to keep it going.
In a report, Forbes claims that Krafcik wants to make its fully autonomous robo-taxi service the norm as quickly as possible. In an interview at Forbes' 30 Under 30 Summit IN Detroit, Krafcik also reiterated the important distinction of the program being a "rider-only" affair.
"From our perspective at Waymo, a Level 4 vehicle is a vehicle in which you can put a rider who doesn't have a driver's license or vision and they could move from point A to point B," said Krafcik. "If you need a driver's license, you can't call it self-driving."

What Fully Autonomous Means
The SAE has six different levels for autonomy. Level 0 means that driving is completely up to the driver, as zero autonomy is on hand. Level 1 requires that the driver be in control of the vehicle at all times, but the car has some driver-assist features. Level 2 is partial autonomy where the car can handle some things, like steering and accelerating on its own, but still requires a human driver to be able to take control at any moment. Level 4 is where the car is capable of controlling all functions, though a driver is usually on hand in case of an emergency. Lastly, Level 5 is full autonomy – no human is needed whatsoever.
While having a Level 4 robo-taxi service for riders to use in Phoenix that's readily available is indicative of the future, the goal for Waymo is to turn this into a full-time service. Krafcik isn't willing to say when the company will turn its autonomous trip-service into a commercial affair. He will only state that it's the end goal.
"I don't know precisely when everything will be ready but I am supremely confident that it will be."
Other companies and automakers have either decided to split up the high costs of coming out with autonomous technology or have called it quits for good. A cheaper alternative may be to simply purchase the tech down the road. So Waymo's introduction of a "rider-only" service is another way it's flexing its muscles.

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