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Chandler, Arizona has been the home of something new and potentially very special since 2016.
Offering test rides to journalists and others in Chandler, Waymo is showing their cars are here and ready to go. Their fleet is mostly made up of Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Instead of offering the cars for personal purchase, they are launching a completely driverless rideshare program. Currently the service is only available to their early riders program, but it will eventually be accessible to the public.
Waymo has been working on developing an autonomous vehicle for several years in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler. Self driving cars have seemed to be something of the future for quite awhile, but the future might be here. In 2017, journalists were among the first to experience a ride in an autonomous vehicle at a closed circuit track at Waymo’s testing facilities in Castle, California.
2017 was the year Waymo’s CEO, John Krafcik, confidently declared self-driving cars were no longer a possibility but a concept of now. Two years later, there are no fully autonomous cars on the road. The test rides are showing the world the possibility of self driving cars may be here. Up until now, all self driving cars were operated on a closed circuit track to show off their capabilities. With no traffic, unforeseeables, or accidentals possible on these tracks, it was a feat but not an entirely applicable one to daily driving conditions. Any Waymo autonomous vehicles on the road were accompanied by a human safety driver behind the wheel in case of an emergency. The rideshare service is different.
The ride hailing app allows riders to order a car from their phone, like they would with any other ridesharing service. After placing the order, the rider receives a notification saying, “Congrats! This car is all yours, with no one up front.” Shortly, a Pacifica minivan will arrive at your destination with no one behind the wheel. These vehicles are not performing on a closed circuit track anymore. There is no human safety driver behind the wheel. They are completely self driven on the road, like any other vehicle dealing with the same conditions. Stopping at lights and stop signs. Making unprotected left turns without issue. Most importantly delivering its passengers to their locations in a safe and efficient manner.
As much progress as the company has made, there are still many hurdles to go before the service is available to all in Chandler or expands to other areas in the country and the world. Members of the early rider program were selected based on ZIP code and were required to sign an NDA. They are not able to order an autonomous vehicle, but instead are matched with one if it’s available. For now, the rides are free. Waymo’s vehicles operate in a set and controlled area, allowing for more control and feedback.
Google started Waymo as a division of the company before it became its own LLC and a subsidiary under Alphabet Inc. in December 2016. There have been many companies and organizations to attempt autonomous vehicles, like Tesla, Nissan, Toyota, Oxford, and more. Waymo is keeping many things hush-hush, right now. Not wanting to give away too much information too soon, but it seems there are huge advances being made based on their willingness to put driverless vehicles on the road. Waymo may be the first to successfully launch self driving cars to the public for use as more than just a novelty.
Would you trust riding in a Waymo vehicle or is it too soon?