Waymo, the self-driving car project launched by Google, spent last week showing off the company’s autonomous vehicles to reporters. Now, Waymo said Tuesday, it’s deploying driverless cars for testing in Phoenix as part of a pilot program. Cars without actual people in the driver seat. Driving people around. It’s wild to watch.
Waymo’s currently in Lisbon for the Web Summit to discuss the company’s efforts, and, in a speech Tuesday, CEO John Krafcik opened up about the eight-years it has spent developing autonomous car technology.
“Fully self-driving cars are here,” he said. “The question you may be wondering: how soon can we all get a ride? Well, in the next few months, members of the public will get to experience these fully self-driving rides, too.”
I’ve often harped about the language used by officials and automakers when describing exactly how developed their autonomous tech really is. It’s important for consumers to have a clear understanding of how much they should be paying attention if they’re behind the wheel. Waymo’s pilot, when it launched in Phoenix earlier this year, had a safety engineer in the driver’s seat to take control of the vehicle.
But that’s the thing here. The car will now be the driver. The passengers will be ferried around town by the vehicle alone. Take a look. (To be sure, outside of the Phoenix area, there’s still going to be a safety engineer behind the wheel.)
Waymo hinted at this in a recently published, thorough safety report on how it plans to deploy the fully-autonomous cars. The company’s aiming to launch a ride-hailing app eventually, so this represents the first step of Waymo’s driverless technology toward achieving that goal.
The company says the vehicles won’t just travel on a predetermined route. They’ll be able to cover an entire area of the Phoenix metropolitan region.
Within the next few months, participants in the pilot program will be the first to test the cars, using them to get around town for work or to run errands. It’s literally a conception of the automotive future that everyone talks about.
And in what feels like a warning shot to Uber and Lyft, Waymo’s now abundantly confident about launching a driverless car service.
“We’re now working on making this commercial service available to the public,” Krafcik said. “People will get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles, to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, or run errands.”
It’s a wild leap forward. Granted, regulators and lawmakers haven’t caught up to actually establish a solid framework on how to oversee fully-autonomous cars. That’s important, and Waymo’s video here should be a signal to policymakers that it can’t be delayed any longer. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the pilot program’s launching in Arizona, which has far-less stringent requirements than neighboring California.
And Waymo’s promotional push here is surely aimed at garnering the type of eye-popping attention the video is surely going to generate among news outlets and observers.
But how could it not? It’s a damn car tooling around town—without a driver.