Waymo Unveils Self-Driving Taxis for Customers in Arizona

This is a gigantic step in the decade-long quest for autonomous transportation.

(Sundry Photography / Shutterstock.com)

Hailing a taxi is something that city dwellers take for granted. In some places, you stick your arm out or up or do a wave; anything so that the driver makes a connection that you need a cab. All of this will have to change when driverless cabs become the new reality.

Waymo is looking to soft launch its driverless car service this month in Phoenix, Arizona, where the company already has a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans and test experience from its Early Rider Program.

Waymo started out as the Google self-driving car project in 2009. Today, it is an independent self-driving technology company with over 10 million self-driving miles on public roads under its belt according to a company press release. That equals more than 10 lifetimes of driving experience.

The miles were raked up in 25 cities across the US in all kinds of driving conditions.  According to John Krafcik, CEO, Our progress on public roads is made possible by our deep investment in simulation. By the end of the month, we’ll cross 7 billion miles driven in our virtual world."

The cars use an array of sensors and a sophisticated software program to navigate the road. The Waymo website states, "Our sensors and software detect and predict the behavior of not only the cyclist but of all the road users around us. We rely on 10 million miles of real-world experience to teach our cars to navigate safely and comfortably through everyday traffic.”

All of the driverless cars are connected to the fleet remote operations center that can deal with any problems that come up and a computer system that acts like the hive brain of the Borg from Star Trek. Data gathered from one car is shared throughout the hive of cars. That way accident or construction sites can be avoided.

The Early Rider program was introduced in Phoenix in 2007, as a public trial of Waymo's self-driving vehicles. The trial provided free rides for 400 people in a designated area and most have a real person driver/technician onboard but it was shrouded in secrecy.

Early Rider was recently expanded to 24/7 in anticipation of the taxi launch according to The Verge. When the taxi service launches, it is set to have fully autonomous rides, but it is expected to still have a real person chaperone in the car, at least for now. The area serviced is expected to remain the same, approximately 100 square miles in Phoenix. Precise details are not available yet.

There are critics of the taxi service because of lack of government oversight in Phoenix or DC and there are people that question the safety of the driverless cars because of the secrecy involved in the trials. Supporters of driverless cars believe that self-driving technology is safer because it eliminates human error, which is the leading cause of auto accidents. That is what driverless car companies are counting on.

After years of information gathering and testing in simulation and on the road, this is a very big milestone for Waymo and could usher in a new era where people can travel in comfort without the stress and fatigue of actually driving.

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