Waymo just announced its plans to deploy vehicles without backup safety drivers, making a major milestone in a sector that has witnessed many ups and downs and stops and starts. The company, the self-driving unit of Google’s parent Alphabet, said it will soon expand its driverless ride-hailing service to include the general public in Phoenix, Arizona.
“Beginning today, October 8, we’re excited to open up our fully driverless offering to Waymo One riders. Members of the public service can now take friends and family along on their rides and share their experience with the world,” the company said in a blog post.
For now, Waymo’s service will still be limited to Phoenix, but the company hopes for that to change in the future. Waymo, and other autonomous vehicle developers, chose Arizona for testing due to an apparent lack of restrictions and regulatory hurdles.
Still, offering rides to all customers is a huge advantage over its competitors. Being first always helps with reputation – and revenue. Waymo’s competitors are still in the testing phase.
The company’s CEO John Krafcik said in a statement that Waymo is looking for the opportunity to bring its driverless services to the company’s home state of California next.
Waymo started its driverless car development in 2017.
The following year, the company joined with carmaker Jaguar and announced a deal that included up to 20,000 Jaguar I-PACE electric vehicles in its upcoming autonomous fleet.
The partnership, worth up to $1.5 billion, is a further mark of Waymo’s ambition in the race against time to beat Uber to the definitive self-driving finish line for a driverless ride-hailing service.Jaguars are set to join the Chrysler Pacifica, which has already been used extensively in testing for the company’s autonomous driving technologies.
Waymo had previously said it was discussing collaboration with Honda; however, that relationship failed to blossom and Honda recently declared its intention to bring its own fully autonomous vehicle to the market by 2025.
Waymo is competing with several other players to deploy such vehicles for the masses, but it’s not as easy as they all thought it would be years ago. Pandemic also slowed down the progress.
Ford is also collaborating with Germany’s Volkswagen and Argo AI to introduce autonomous vehicle technology in the U.S. and Europe. Due to the pandemic, Ford said it will delay its launch plans until 2022.
Another of Detroit’s Big Three, General Motors, unveiled its first driverless vehicle in January and announced it would start delivering the first vehicle in the next five years.
Last September, Hyundai said that it would form a $4-billion joint venture with Aptiv to advance the development of production-ready autonomous driving systems. The company announced it would start mass production of driverless cars in 2024.
As for Uber, sued by Waymo for stealing its trade secrets and settled for $245 million, it’s self-driving division, Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), has had a tough time since a fatal crash involving one of its self-driving cars in 2019.