author: Vineeth Joel Patel
Waymo’s been testing autonomous vehicles for quite some time and was one of the first to offer rides to the public in one of its self-driving vans. Waymo neatly filed all of its self-driving tech into its One ride-hailing service. The service has been operating in Phoenix, Arizona since 2018 and, up until now, has allowed a select few to get a ride in an autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivan with a safety operator behind the wheel. Now, it sounds like Waymo One is getting ready for the big leagues by expanding its fully autonomous program.
More Autonomous Rides Coming
Recently, Waymo announced that its autonomous One program will be available to all One riders. Waymo claims that “members of the public service can now take friends and family along on their riders and share their experience with the world.” At the moment, “the public service” only includes people that are part of the Waymo One service. Over the next few weeks, the ride-sharing company plans to invite more people directly into the service via the app.
At the moment, Waymo isn’t too clear on whether the rides will be fully autonomous or involve a safety operator, but claims that fully driverless rides are coming “in the near term.” So far, the ride-sharing company claims that 10 percent of its rides from the Waymo One service this year have been conducted without a safety operator. Apparently, a few members of the Waymo One service have received fully autonomous rides by signing a non-disclosure agreement. Additionally, riders gave the company feedback to perfect the rides.
Autonomous And Hygienic
While going autonomous is certainly a way to showcase its technology, Waymo has another reason for doing this – the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Cases in the U.S. are on the rise again, which could see some Waymo users be more cautious about taking a ride in a vehicle with a driver. Beyond giving passengers rides in vehicles that don’t need a human driver, Waymo is also fitting its fleet of vehicles with barriers between the first and second row. Once the barriers arrive, Waymo claims that safety operators will return to the vehicles to increase capacity and the service area.
At the moment, Waymo One only works within a 100-square-mile area in Phoenix. Once the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, rides were briefly paused. Then, they started again, but in a way where riders wouldn’t be in close proximity to the safety operator.
Waymo’s clearly in the lead when it comes to real-world autonomous technology and the company’s latest steps further widen the gap with other competitors. It’s also another step toward actually having fully autonomous vehicles on the road.