By on November 13, 2018

Waymo expects to quietly rolls out a commercial, autonomous ride-hailing service early next month, a new report claims, making it the first such service to open itself up to paying customers.

The company, a subsidiary of Google parent Alphabet, has tested a fleet of driverless Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids in Arizona for some time, recently bringing a group of non-paying riders on board for free test trips in the Phoenix area. Now, it’s time for the real show to start, albeit slowly.

According to a closely connected source who spoke to Bloomberg, the first commercial Waymo service will launch under new branding in Phoenix in early December. Assuming users are brave enough to trust their lives to a barely regulated array of sensors, cameras, and associated software, the service would provide a ride home that doesn’t involve wondering whether to attempt small talk with an Uber or Lyft driver.

The name of the new brand isn’t yet known, but Waymo apparently has no big plans for a grand announcement. It’s possible a major milestone in autonomous driving might pass with a whimper. Bloomberg‘s source claims would-be customers won’t be able to download an app and summon a ghostly Pacifica for a while, leading the publication to believe that the service will roll out only among pre-selected users. Likely, members of the 400 families who took part in the Early Rider Program.

Coverage will also be small, the source claims, with the selected users travelling only in a 100-square mile area around the Phoenix suburbs. A slow phase-in of riders and vehicles will follow. After that, new cities await.

The safety challenges facing early self-driving vehicle developers are already well known. This spring, the Phoenix area became the site of the first fatality of the self-driving era. That collision, still under investigation, left a 49-year-old pedestrian dead and Uber’s autonomous testing program on ice. The company’s only just now trying to get things started again in Pittsburgh.

While Waymo touts its commitment to safety, there’s potential drawbacks to a vehicle that always drives by the book. A video shot this past summer appeared to show a Waymo self-driving Pacifica becoming flummoxed while trying to merge onto a Phoenix-area freeway. For the commercial launch, the source cited plans to place a safety driver on board each vehicle, even though the minivans will drive themselves for the vast majority of the time. The number of vehicles “equipped” with human monitors will decrease over time, until there are none.

Regardless of the technological challenges and safety risks, the race to become a frontrunner in the autonomous race carries with it the promise of big bucks. Morgan Stanley analysts claim the unnamed ride-hailing service already carries a valuation of $80 billion. Compared to its technological rivals, Waymo appears determined to avoid bad PR in its bid for long-term success.

[Image: Waymo]

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11 Comments on “Pilotless Pacifica Rides for Paying Customers Are Just a Month Away: Report...”

  • avatar

    Morgan Stanley evaluates the present net worth of driverless car companies at 80 billion.
    Keep on trucking Ms. Morgan and Mr. Stanley.
    These cars will be so easy to hack the entire concept will be a mere flash in the pan in the world of giddy Nuevo Caoitalusts…and their pet Silicon Valley thinkers.
    As hackers plant false news all over social media (so much for free and open exchange of idea’s) the same hackers will have no problem hacking into and ruining these self driving vehicles. Causing one crash after another after another.
    Just for fun. Just to be a Luddite. Just to stick it to the man. Illogical thinking? Sure yes absolutely.
    But these cars will be easily hacked. And the entire concept will go by the wayside.
    As my wife says…”just because google and others want to prove they can make driverless cars… doesn’t mean the idea will actually work in the real world”. “Just ‘cause it can be done… doesn’t mean it should be done”.
    We know that
    There are some nasty people in the real world. And driverless cars are the proverbial house of cards that one tiny hack after another after another will spell its downfall.
    It’s such a great idea people will love it. Hey…just because it’s a great idea … does not mean people will come to be. The Luddites are posed to do their thing. The foreign hackers are posed to do their thing.
    Do Ms Stanley and Mr Morgan see the big short coming?
    Nope. Not at all. They missed it as the housing market collapsed. They will miss it again.
    Driverless cars … yep kids they had ‘em… yep… it was… let’s see now…… back in 18… yep it was way back in back in 18 … but that was a long time ago kids … but now it’s time for bed. We will have another story tomorrow. Now go to sleep. &. Dream well… but none of this stupid pipe dreams that were so popular… way back in 18.

    • 0 avatar

      The vested interests of the corporations and the governing elite will slowly make personal cars more and m ore expensive, so that only the very rich can drive themselves. In the name of safety, of course.

      Then they will have their dream of movement control of the citizenry and the monetization fo all the free time people will suddenly have. People won’t even mind that sometimes the cars take passengers into the hands of the government (if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about).

    • 0 avatar

      Government can do wonderful things for you like free healthcare and education, social security and fighting wars to protect you. Isn’t that beautiful? Taking care of transporting you in exchange of data about your moves, tastes, affiliations and interests is a bonus.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Waymo appears determined to avoid bad PR in its bid for long-term success.”

    Bad PR isn’t really the problem; the district attorney and the victim’s lawyer are.

    I don’t see how Waymo’s legal team thinks this is a good idea.

  • avatar

    I’d like my government to certify and license autonomous vehicles as sufficiently fail-safe by proving protective function redundancy.

    I’d like my government to standardize the on-road behavior of autonomous vehicles. I need to know how exactly these vehicles will respond to various road hazards.

    There is a good chance that these vehicles will behave like the absolute worst and most unendurably cautious drivers humans have to offer, leaving in their unprejudiced wake a trail of wild anger…with drivers longing furiously for retribution for that tiny, lawyer-ed piece of code that made the white Pacifica slam on its brakes because a hungry and distracted driver pulled just a bit too far out of the Mcdonalds drive-way as it impatiently waited for a gap in traffic.

  • avatar

    B&B commenter posts that driverless cars will forever remain impossible while being driven in a self driving car – film at 11.

  • avatar
    Derrick Gunter

    Wonder if these Pacificas will be able to take themselves back to the dealer for all the TSBs and recalls?

  • avatar

    After the politicians, elite and celebrities try them first— I’m totally in on this.

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