Waymo is first to launch paid self-driv­ing taxis

Ser­vice will work like Uber, ex­cept with ro­bot ve­hi­cles

The Mercury News - - Business + Technology - By Levi Su­ma­gaysay lsuma­[email protected] ba­yare­anews­group.com

Waymo on Wed­nes­day launched a self-driv­ing car ser­vice that users can sum­mon with an app at any time, al­though the ve­hi­cles at first will be staffed by the com­pany’s driv­ers — which one ex­pert called “be­fud­dling.”

With its roll­out in the Phoenix area, Waymo has beaten other com­pa­nies in charg­ing for an au­ton­o­mous ride-hail­ing ser­vice — al­most a decade after the Google spinoff be­gan test­ing self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy.

The ser­vice will work much like Lyft or Uber, ex­cept with ro­bot ve­hi­cles. For now, se­lected early rid­ers can use Waymo One and see es­ti­mates of how much their rides will cost. Be­sides the hu­man driv­ers who will be in the car with rid­ers at first, the ve­hi­cles are equipped with a sys­tem that al­lows rid­ers to com­mu­ni­cate with re­mote sup­port agents, and the app pro­vides a way for users to rate their rides.

Al­though Waymo boasts of hav­ing 10 mil­lion self­driv­ing miles of ex­pe­ri­ence on pub­lic roads and has been test­ing a free, fully au­ton­o­mous pro­gram in Phoenix for about a year and a half with about 400 vol­un­teer rid­ers, it is in­tro­duc­ing its paid ride-hail­ing ser­vice with a bit more cau­tion.

“Self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy is new to many, so we’re pro­ceed­ing care­fully with the com­fort and con­ve­nience of our rid­ers in mind,” Waymo CEO John Kraf­cik said in a blog post Wed­nes­day.

“To me, driver­less means that there is no­body in the driver’s seat,” said Raj Ra­jku­mar, Ge­orge West­ing­house pro­fes­sor at the Depart­ment of Elec­tri­cal and Com­puter En­gi­neer­ing at Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity. “Is Waymo try­ing to have it both ways — be­ing the first com­pany to go ‘driver­less’ and be­ing ‘safe’ by hav­ing a hu­man op­er­a­tor?”

John Simp­son, Pri­vacy and Tech­nol­ogy Project di­rec­tor for Con­sumer Watch­dog, said he thinks Waymo is “grab­bing head­lines and news cov­er­age by ap­pear­ing to of­fer more than is re­ally the case.”

Ra­jku­mar also sug­gested the Al­pha­bet-owned com­pany is un­der the gun fi­nan­cially: “The im­mense pres­sure that Waymo faces is that they have spent bil­lions of dol­lars and a decade on the

“Self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy is new to many, so we’re pro­ceed­ing care­fully with the com­fort and con­ve­nience of our rid­ers in mind.” — Waymo CEO John Kraf­cik

project with nary a penny of rev­enue in sight to date.”

Waymo One will be op­er­at­ing in the metro Phoenix area, in­clud­ing Chan­dler, Mesa, Gil­bert and Tempe, where an Uber self-driv­ing SUV struck and killed a pedes­trian in March. The death of the woman, who was cross­ing the street while walk­ing along­side a bi­cy­cle, dealt a

blow to au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy, which pro­po­nents and tech­nol­o­gists have billed as a way to re­duce traf­fic deaths.

Uber has yet to re­sume test­ing its self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles, al­though it has ap­plied to do so in Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia. This week, Uber an­nounced it had hired a former of­fi­cial at the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion who over­saw ve­hi­cle safety re­search.

Last week, Waymo an­nounced that it had hired

a former Na­tional Trans­porta­tion Safety Board chair, Deb­o­rah Hers­man, to be its chief safety of­fi­cial. At the same time, the com­pany also an­nounced the hir­ing of its first chief com­mer­cial of­fi­cer, Amee Chande, who most re­cently was an Alibaba ex­ec­u­tive.

Waymo in Oc­to­ber was given the green light by the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles to be­gin test­ing fully driver­less ve­hi­cles on pub­lic roads in five cities in Sil­i­con Val­ley. The com­pany has not yet pub­licly an­nounced a launch date for that test­ing.

Sil­i­con Val­ley-based Drive.ai has been test­ing giv­ing free on-de­mand au­ton­o­mous rides in Frisco, Texas since July, and in Ar­ling­ton, Texas since Oc­to­ber. Other com­pa­nies with plans for self-driv­ing taxi ser­vices in­clude Cruise Au­to­ma­tion, the San Fran­cisco startup now owned by Gen­eral Mo­tors.


Google’s self-driv­ing car spinoff is fi­nally ready to try to profit from its nearly decade-old tech­nol­ogy. Waymo in­tro­duced a small-scale ride-hail­ing ser­vice in the Phoenix area Wed­nes­day that will in­clude a hu­man be­hind the wheel.

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