Driverless cars: Waymo eyes Europe for launch of robot taxi services

With nearly seven million test miles on the clock and more than 60,000 new hybrid minivans coming to join its existing fleet, Waymo is now looking to take its self-driving cars beyond the U.S.

John Krafcik, chief executive of the Alphabet-owned company, said this week that Waymo is keen to explore the European market with a view to launching a robot taxi service similar to one it’s already testing in Arizona, Reuters reported.

Krafcik was speaking at the Automotive News Europe Congress in Turin, Italy, where a few days earlier Waymo gave visitors a demonstration of its driverless-car technology.

Opportunity knocks

“There is an opportunity for us at Waymo to experiment here in Europe,” Krafcik told Reuters, adding that besides a robot taxi service, his company could experiment with “other products,” though he declined to elaborate on what form they might take.

The boss said the company would likely enter a partnership with a local player, but didn’t offer clues about how any such plan is progressing.

Waymo officials have reportedly been spending time in Europe to learn more about how local regulations would affect on-road testing as well as taxi services using autonomous vehicles. With many European cities featuring streets that are often more winding, narrower, and busier than those in the U.S., driverless-car software will certainly have to be finely tuned to deal with the more challenging conditions.

Seven million miles

Born out of Google’s driverless-car program, which launched in 2009, Waymo has been making great strides with its vehicle-based driverless technology. This week it revealed its autonomous vehicles are about to reach seven million miles of testing on public roads in the U.S., an increase of two million miles since February. Much of the driving has been done by 600 autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans, and the company recently ordered another 62,000 — yes, 62,000 — to add to its fleet.

While most of its competitors are testing self-driving cars with safety drivers, Waymo has been testing fully driverless vehicles in Arizona since last year, even carrying passengers as part of a robot taxi service that it hopes to launch in the next 12 months.

“The world keeps saying that self-driving cars are coming soon,” Krafcik said this week. “We are doing this, today, in Phoenix, driving without humans in the front row. Sometimes I feel like the world hasn’t quite reckoned with that thought.”

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