For the service, Waymo is adding 500 customised Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleet. Waymo has already tested these vehicles, plus other makes and models, on public roads, but only with its employees and contractors as testers. By opening the doors to the general public with a larger fleet, the company will get data on how people experience and use self-driving cars and clues on ways to generate revenue from the technology.
"We're at the point when it's really important to find how real people, outside the Google environment, will use this technology," said John Krafcik, Waymo's CEO. "Our goal is that they will use this for all their transportation needs."
Waymo is letting people across parts of the
Google is a pioneer in autonomous cars, launching its research program in 2009. After mostly ignoring the project for several years, the auto industry has recently rushed to catch up, pumping billions of dollars into similar technology and engineering talent. A bevy of newcomers have joined too, including some founded by former Waymo engineers, making the field incredibly competitive before anyone has made money. Uber Technologies Inc. has emerged as a particularly bitter rival.
Last year, autonomous vehicles run by the
ride-hailing giant began picking up paying customers in
"Yes, self-driving technology makes
sense for ride-sharing," said Krafcik, a former executive at Hyundai Motor's
Last year, Waymo inked a deal with Fiat
Chrysler Automobiles for 100
This was especially true last year when it lost several top engineers, and Uber launched its limited test service. Krafcik has often responded by pointing to safety concerns and technical obstacles to deploying fully driverless cars.
Waymo is still moving cautiously. Chosen users for the Phoenix service will sit in passenger seats, and Waymo will put contractor or employee testers in the driver seat although Krafcik said the goal is to remove them eventually.
The company has quietly been testing the service with a handful of Phoenix residents for two months. From those trials, he noted one behaviour trait when no one has to drive. "People have a better opportunity to bond and connect inside the vehicle," he said.