Waymo to launch driverless robo-taxis in Arizona

November 09, 2017 //By Rich Pell
Alphabet Inc.'s autonomous vehicle unit Waymo (Mountain View, CA) plans to soon launch a robo-taxi service with no human behind the steering wheel, which would make it the first self-driving company to do so in the U.S.

According to the company, it has been testing its autonomous minivans on public roads in Arizona without a safety driver behind the wheel since mid-October. Soon, the company says, it plans to offer rides for consumers in the fully self-driving vehicles.

Initially, plans are for a Waymo employee to be in the vehicle - but not behind the wheel. Instead, reports suggest, the employee will likely sit in the back seat in many cases.

The vehicles will operate within a geofenced 100-square-mile area of the town of Chandler, AZ - a suburb of Phoenix. Over time, the company expects, that area will expand as its cars experience more trips and more data is collected.

Rides will be intially offered only to members of the company's Early Rider Program . The program, a public trial which began operation in the area in April, is designed to help the company "learn from people with diverse transportation needs."

Waymo has been testing self-driving cars on public roads longer than most of its competitors, claiming to have driven 3.5 million miles on public roads and 2.5 billion miles driven in simulation. And, it says, its current vehicles offer many advantages.

"This is the most advanced vehicle we've developed to date," says CEO John Krafcik. "Everything in it is designed and built for full autonomy. Our combination of powerful sensors gives our vehicles a 360 degree view of the world."

"The lasers can see objects in three dimensions, up to 300 meters away. We also have short range lasers that stay focused close-up to the side of the vehicle. Our radars can see underneath and around vehicles, tracking moving objects usually hidden from the human eye."

The city of Chandler supports the company's experiment with self-driving cars. It sees it as an opportunity to both improve road safety and "provide new freedom for those unable to drive."

Waymo's next step is a commercial ride-hail service.