By on December 5, 2018

We’ve arrived. It’s officially #TheFuture.

After years of talk within the auto industry, Waymo says it will become the first company to offer a commercial taxi service using autonomous vehicles when the program launches in Arizona today. Called Waymo One, the Google subsidiary plans to offer the first batch of rides to the 400 individuals who participated in the firm’s pilot program. Afterwards, the service will be expanded to more riders in a broader area.

As with the company’s early rider program, Waymo wants to keep the launch small to assess demand while continuing the company’s testing in an environment it feels comfortable with. Based on the growing assumption that autonomous vehicles can’t handle inclement weather, Arizona seems like the perfect place to keep working out the bugs.

Similarly, public complaints have indicated Waymo’s fleet of Chrysler Pacificas may not yet be perfected

While Waymo seems to think it’s progressed to a point that warrants the expansion, it plans to retain the services of human safety drivers for now. It’s not clear how long they’ll be needed, though the company has offered driverless rides through its early rider program before. It also started a pilot project offering delivery services with Walmart earlier this year and partnered with AutoNation and Avis Budget Group on fleet maintenance in 2017.

“We’re taking the next step in our journey with the introduction of our commercial self-driving service,” John Krafcik, Waymo’s CEO, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. “Self-driving technology is new to many, so we’re proceeding carefully with the comfort and convenience of our riders in mind.”

Customers gain access via the Waymo One app. Vehicles are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and will cart patrons across several cities in the Metro Phoenix area, including Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert. Riders will see price estimates before they accept the trip based on factors like the time and distance to their destination, like with Uber or Lyft. Passenger groups are limited to up to three adults and a child.

Waymo will also provide a help line within the app and in-car consoles for confused customers. While likely unnecessary during the initial phase, the firm believes they’ll become more useful as it transitions away from human safety drivers.

In conjunction with the launch, the company recently released a promotional video that makes normal driving look like an absolute nightmare. It’s filled with tag lines like “what if getting there felt like being there” and “this is where we’re going” while calling its vehicles “the world’s most-experienced rider.”


While we’re willing to agree that this qualifies as the world’s first autonomous ride-hailing service, there are a lot of caveats that accompany the claim. Firstly, this feels more like an expansion of what Waymo was already offering, rather than the launch of a new product. It’s also still dependent on human safety drivers. That’s likely a wise decision, but it also doesn’t make this feel like a finished product. Waymo is obviously still testing and will probably put the program through its paces for several more years before the taxi service is offered nationally.

That’s likely the point, though. Waymo One allows Alphabet/Google to test the logistics surrounding ride hailing and prod the market. Achievements aside, the firm is still only at phase one of a truly monumental endeavor.

[Images: Waymo]

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17 Comments on “Waymo’s First Commercial Self-driving Service Launches in Phoenix...”

  • avatar

    This article barely touches on the subject of delivery vehicles but surely that would be a less risky business for testing autonomous cars than a taxi service. Why so little discussion of such?

    • 0 avatar

      Because delivery trucks need deliverers? There’s no meaningful sense in which a UPS truck could operate without a human.

      I mean, in some near-distant future, a tiny drone could fly each package from truck to porch, but come on.

      • 0 avatar

        It would work with pizza. It pulls into your driveway, you verify with your phone, it opens a door where you can pull your pizza out.

        Not remotely cost effective, but technically doable.

        • 0 avatar

          There was an article here several months back for that exact thing – Domino’s Pizza and Ford self drive?? – as I recall. For the foreseeable future UPS would need someone to “unload” the truck which causes the “loss of focus” on this subject.

        • 0 avatar

          I delivered pizzas years ago. The average pizza delivery customer couldn’t be bothered to turn their light on so you could see their address.

          There’s no way they would put some pants on and actually walk down to the vehicle.

          • 0 avatar

            If they can’t be bothered to put pants on, it is perhaps a good thing that they can’t be bothered with the walking down to the vehicle part, either.

          • 0 avatar

            I believe there are some customers that are as you describe, but I’m suspicious that describes the average customer.

            I meet the delivery guy in the driveway, pants and everything.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Based on the growing assumption that autonomous vehicles can’t handle inclement weather, Arizona seems like the perfect place to keep working out the bugs.”

    That depends on the bugs. If your bugs are related to inclement weather, then Arizona is the *wrong* place to work them out. This is one reason Uber is testing vehicles in Pittsburgh – crappy weather, roads, and terrain.

    • 0 avatar

      There are several classes of problems to be solved: 1) the raw basics of self-driving, 2) advanced self-driving, and 3) autonomous taxi service.

      (1) is best solved in easy conditions—walk before you run.
      (2) is being worked on in Pittsburgh (by Uber, Argo, and others)
      (3) is the next step of (1). If self-driving taxis can meaningfully be a thing, then they can succeed in Phoenix. But you need to find that out before you try to make them succeed in Pittsburgh.

      I’d add that there’s a decent amount of evidence that these companies all have ideas about how to make this work in situations that are far short of the promises—e.g. self-driving shuttles that putter around corporate campuses. That’s a fraction of the difficulty of AAVs as taxis in Pittsburgh, but still beyond current capabilities (or pushing up against the limits).

  • avatar

    there goes the neighborhood.

  • avatar

    Do customers get a Crash Test Dummy discount?

  • avatar

    I’m unclear how this is beyond what Uber started doing in Pittsburgh 2+ years ago. I mean, maybe there’s more of the job being done by the car and less by the safety driver, but this still sounds like a difference in quantity, not quality.

  • avatar

    I can’t wait to pay to be some company’s guinea pig.

  • avatar

    This will end in tears.

  • avatar

    Every car I own is self driving.
    I get in, sit behind the wheel, and start driving!

    It’s really, really hard to imagine being near one of these on a public street, let alone sitting inside. But hey, go ahead if you want to!

  • avatar

    “Thanks for using Johnnycab!”

  • avatar

    Having passengers is a great idea: Maybe the passengers can keep the human “safety drivers” awake.

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