Self-Driving Cars From Waymo Are Plying on Roads as Taxis
Waymo is introducing a small-scale ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area of Arizona that will include a human behind the wheel in case the robotic vehicles malfunction.
The company is initially operating the new service cautiously, underscoring the challenges still facing its autonomous vehicles as they navigate around vehicles with human drivers that don't always follow the same rules as robots.
The service, dubbed Waymo One, at first will only be available to a couple hundred of riders, all of whom had already been participating in a free pilot program that began in April 2017. It will be confined to a roughly 100-square-mile area in and around Phoenix, including the neighboring cities of Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert.
Although Waymo has been driving passengers without any humans behind the wheel in its free pilot program, it decided to be less daring with the new commercial service.
The ride-hailing service is launching in the same area where a car using robotic technology from ride-hailing service Uber hit and killed a pedestrian crossing a darkened street in Tempe, Arizona seven months ago.
That fatal collision attracted worldwide attention that cast a pall over the entire self-driving car industry as more people began to publicly question the safety of the vehicles.
"I suspect the Uber fatality has caused Waymo to slow down its pace a bit" and use human safety drivers in its ride-hailing service," said Navigant Research analyst Sam Abuelsamid. "If people keep dying, there will be a bigger backlash against these vehicles."
The Uber robotic car had a human safety driver behind the wheel, but that wasn't enough to prevent its lethal accident in March.
Back in October, Krafcik conceded to the AP that Waymo's self-driving vehicles were still encountering occasional problems negotiating left-hand turns at complicated intersections.
Waymo says that the passenger will be able to monitor vehicles plying on the road, and even pedestrians will be highlighted in the screen (as given above). In addition to marking the path for the self-driving car to drive.
"I think the things that humans have challenges with, we're challenged with as well," Krafcik said. "So sometimes unprotected lefts are super challenging for a human, sometimes they're super challenging for us."
Waymo eventually plans to open its new ride-hailing app to all comers in the Phoenix area, although it won't say when. It also wants to expand its service to other cities, but isn't saying where.
When that happens, it could pose a threat to Uber and the second most popular U.S. ride-hailing service, Lyft, especially since it should be able charge lower prices without the need to share revenue with a human driver in control at all times.