Waymo is back on the road again, at least in Phoenix. The company says it is resuming its self-driving taxi service for the public starting today.
The company’s specially outfitted Chrysler Pacifica minivans will be buzzing around the city sans drivers, allowing current enrollees in Waymo One to get around town. Eventually, the company will expand the service area and allow the pubic to get a ride whenever they want, using its smart-phone app.
Current coverage area is about 50 square miles of Phoenix. However, the company is planning to expand the services, allowing for more riders in one vehicle, and covering a bigger area. This will also call for the company to add a service driver in the event of an issue.
Eventually, Waymo wants to expand its robo-taxi service, noting that as much as 10% of its business in 2020 has been completed in a completely driverless scenario. Riders were pulled from a group and signed non-disclosure agreements.
The company had plans to roll this service out in more markets before the pandemic hit, idling everything. Waymo CEO John Krafcik noted during a conference call the company will expand to other markets in the near future.
“You can imagine we’d love the opportunity to bring the Waymo One driver to our home state of California,” Krafcik said.
Under current circumstances, Waymo’s looking to ensure the safety of riders. Krafcik noted the company is sanitizing the vehicles regularly as well as requiring riders to wear masks at all times during their trip. The company has a deal with AutoNation to clean the minivans as part of the regular maintenance of the vehicles. Fiat Chrysler has engineered a system that can flush the air from a minivan after every ride, he said.
Waymo’s not alone in trying to establish a profitable robo-taxi business. Tesla’s taken several steps to make it happen, including not allowing people to buy their Model 3 at the end of their lease — a customary option. The company plans to use the vehicles as part of a massive fleet of autonomous taxis, if it can get its full-service driving software up and running and approved for use.
General Motors’ Cruise subsidiary is testing its shuttle-style vehicles in and around San Francisco. However, the company hasn’t started carrying passengers yet. Waymo’s clearly serious about it, raising more than $3 billion, mostly from outside investors, earlier this year to bolster their efforts.