Waymo to offer ‘fully driverless’ rides to public The Chandler Arizonan

Waymo to offer ‘fully driverless’ rides to public

November 17th, 2020 Chandler Arizona Staff
Waymo to offer ‘fully driverless’ rides to public

By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

Waymo, the Chandler-based autonomous driving company, will soon start offering rides that are completely driverless and open to the general public.

After experiencing a setback during the COVID-19 pandemic, the tech company plans to resume its rideshare service and allow customers to go for rides without the presence of a Waymo employee.

Users of Waymo’s rideshare services have previously been accompanied by an employee who could quickly take control of the autonomous car for any reason and at any time.

But Waymo says the company can move into driverless rides.

“We expect our new fully driverless service to be very popular,” a Waymo spokeswoman said, “and we’re thankful to our riders for their patience as we ramp up availability to serve demand.”

The announcement could be a significant milestone in Waymo’s multi-year journey as a notable player in the emerging autonomous vehicle industry.

The company set up its headquarters in Chandler in 2016 and quickly started testing out its self-driving cars on the city’s roads while building a positive image in the community through partnerships with city officials and other local leaders.

Waymo first began offering driverless rides for a limited pool of patrons earlier this year and started collecting feedback on how the company could eventually transition to fully-driverless rides.

By the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, the company temporarily halted its rideshare services altogether and waited for guidance on how to safely open its services up to the public.

Before the pandemic, Waymo claims it had been providing up to 2,000 rides within a 100-square-mile territory positioned across the East Valley.

“We expect to be able to return to and exceed that volume over time,” the Waymo spokeswoman said.

Waymo will be scaling back its service territory down to a 50-square-mile radius as it begins transitioning to a fully-driverless rideshare service. Customers can only request rides to and from within the company’s service territory.

Waymo said it will be attempting to recruit new customers to its rideshare service in the coming weeks and open their rides more broadly to the general public.

But the company isn’t planning to completely discard its car operators anytime soon.

Waymo said it will reintroduce car operators once it installs barriers inside their vehicles designed to protect customers from any possible germs or viruses.

When car operators are reintroduced to the rideshare service, Waymo said it will be able to start expanding its service territory again.

Even though Waymo is not planning to be completely driverless long-term yet, local officials are still quite elated they get to claim to be the first city where residents can hail a driverless taxi.

“We are excited to be the first city in the nation to host a public, fully driverless ride-hailing service on our streets,” said Mayor Kevin Hartke.

“Waymo’s unwavering dedication to the safety and well-being of riders and employees…gives me confidence as both mayor and a Waymo rider.”

Mesa Mayor John Giles echoed Hartke’s excitement as his city is also part of Waymo’s service territory and hosts a repair facility.

“As Mesa grows and evolves, this innovative technology is in alignment with our city’s future and I’m excited that our residents will be among the first to take advantage of this one-of-a-kind service,” Giles said.

Waymo is asking customers to take precautions in order to avoid contracting or spreading the coronavirus.

Riders are advised to wear a face mask while riding in a Waymo car, even when they’re riding alone. The vehicle’s windows should be rolled down slightly during a ride in order to maintain regular ventilation.

The company also is providing hand sanitizer in every vehicle and is encouraging riders to avoid pressing any of the vehicle’s buttons. Customers are still able to connect with technicians through the Waymo app on their phone.

Meanwhile, Waymo also announced that it is partnering with Daimler Trucks on the development of autonomous SAE Level 4 trucks.

Their initial effort will combine Waymo’s industry-leading automated driver technology with a unique version of Daimler’s Freightliner Cascadia, to enable autonomous driving.

Waymo said its cars having driven over 20 million miles on public roads across 25 U.S. cities and 15 billion miles in simulation.

Both Waymo and Daimler Trucks said they share the common goal of improving road safety and efficiency for fleet customers.

Waymo and Daimler Trucks will investigate expansion to other markets and brands in the near future.

Roger Nielsen, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, said, “The combination of increased road freight volumes and the need and vision of fleet operators for highly automated trucks fuel our relentless pursuit of innovation.”

Waymo CEO John Krafcik said the partnership will “improve road safety and logistics efficiency on the world’s roadways.”

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