Waymo launches first 'commercial' driverless taxi
Waymo has made good on its ten-year-old promise to launch a commercial driverless taxi service by the end of 2018.
But the details aren’t so simple, with the Google-owned autonomous taxi service not quite delivering in full.
In a blog post published yesterday, Waymo announced it was the first company to graduate its pilot driverless program into a full-blown robot taxi service.
“Today, we’re taking the next step in our journey to bring our self-driving service, Waymo One, to the public,” said Waymo Team.
However, the service remains confined to the previous geofenced testing area around Phoenix, Arizona, and only around 400 beta testers who had already been using the service for free will be able to continue doing so but at a cost.
That means the general public still can’t access the service.
Waymo started work on its driverless taxi almost ten years ago, clocking over 16 million kilometres of testing across the US and is currently the only company with a fully driverless testing permit in the state of California.
Arizona, where Waymo has launched its pay-for-use driverless taxi service, has been a popular location for testing autonomous technology because the state is yet to introduce legislation on the matter. It helped Waymo launch the service and other manufacturers trial driverless technologies but it was also where the first death caused by an autonomous car occurred – just 15 kilometres from Waymo One’s launch location.
Though Waymo touts itself as the first real robot taxi service, a supervisor still sits upfront, and the ride has remote operators monitoring it. And the Waymo One app that’s used to hail a ride – much like Uber – is not available in the app store, with the current select group of riders given exclusive access to the app from Google.
“Over time, we hope to make Waymo One available to even more members of the public as we add vehicles and drive in more places,” said Waymo Team.
“Self-driving technology is new to many, so we’re proceeding carefully with the comfort and convenience of our riders in mind. At first, Waymo-trained drivers will supervise our Waymo One vehicles.”
The change to a commercial operation has lifted the non-disclosure agreement which prevented testers from commenting about the ride. Reuters was able to test the service this month and said it “proved slow and jerky at times.”
It remains to be seen what initial impact the novelty of robots driving taxis will have on current ride-hailing apps such Uber and Lyft, though Waymo says its hand-picked riders had “inspiring” stories from using the service.
“Their stories are inspiring: early riders used our self-driving vehicles to take courses at a local college, commute to work and to high school, accompany a vision-impaired aunt shopping, get to book club each week, connect to buses, and try new restaurants on date night," it said.
Waymo is joined by other companies keen to introduce driverless taxis including Uber, Toyota and GM, the latter announcing earlier this year that it will launch its service in the San Francisco area in 2019.
Alex Rae is Drive’s Melbourne based reporter with over 10 years’ experience in the automotive industry as a photographer and journalist. Having studied both engineering and the arts, Alex understands what makes things tick while appreciating that sometimes it’s all about form over matter…