Skip to main content

Waymo opens its fully driverless robotaxi service to more riders

Waymo is opening up its fully driverless robotaxi service in Phoenix, Arizona, to more people as the driverless-car company continues to edge toward the wide-scale launch of autonomous ridesharing services.

Born out of the Google self-driving program that launched in 2009, Alphabet-owned Waymo has been testing its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivan and other vehicles in several states, with a 100-square-mile area in Phoenix seeing the most activity for testing and exploratory ridesharing services, the first of which launched at the end of 2018.

Up to now, the robotaxi service in Phoenix has only been available to select riders via the company’s Waymo One program. While most Waymo vehicles have a safety driver behind the wheel, a smaller set of riders have been able to take trips in vehicles with nobody behind the wheel — known as “fully driverless” — with such rides forming around 10% of all of its up-to-2,000-a-week driverless ridesharing trip.

This week, however, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said the company is opening up its fully driverless service to all Waymo One riders, paving the way for a dramatic uptick in the number of Waymo rides that have no safety driver on board.

Waymo One riders will be able to start taking friends and family on their trips, too. The company also plans to let more members of the public sign up for the service via its smartphone app, with both moves serving to bring the driverless experience to even more people.

“We expect our new fully driverless service to be very popular, and we’re thankful to our riders for their patience as we ramp up availability to serve demand,” Krafcik wrote in a blog post announcing the expansion.

Without offering specific numbers, the CEO said Waymo is also planning to add more ridsesharing vehicles to its fleet later this year, though, in a bid to allay fears over coronavirus transmission, a physical barrier will be placed between the front and back seats in vehicles where a safety driver is present.

Krafcik added that since trials of its ridesharing service started almost two years ago, it’s been “gathering key learnings” from riders on how to optimize its driverless service experience.

Regulatory hurdles mean that before personal ownership of self-driving cars becomes a thing, we’re more likely to see automakers launching ridesharing services using autonomous cars under strict guidelines and in specific areas, with GM Cruise and Ford, among others, already competing with Waymo to bring such services to the masses.

However, the results of a survey conducted by the American Automobile Association earlier this year suggested there is still much work to be done to educate the public about the technology’s benefits and safety features.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Waymo puts its self-driving cars back on Arizona roads as lockdown is eased

Waymo says it’s ready to return its self-driving cars to the streets of Arizona.

The autonomous-car company paused most of its public-road testing in March in response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, the company parked cars that picked up passengers as part of its Waymo One ridesharing pilot, as well as those that drove without passengers but required a safety engineer to be on board. Vehicles that could operate safely without an engineer remained on the streets, though only a small number of these have been operating.

Read more
Ford delays the launch of its robocar services by a year
An Argo AI autonomous car on the road.

Ford says it will delay the launch of its autonomous-vehicle services because of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It means the company’s self-driving taxi and delivery services, using technology from partner Argo A.I., will not arrive until 2022, a year later than originally planned.

The auto giant announced the decision during a call discussing its quarterly earnings on Tuesday, April 28.

Read more
Brown goes autonomous: Waymo and UPS partner on package-delivery pilot
Waymo and UPS delivery pilot program

Waymo's fleet of prototype self-driving cars will soon carry packages in addition to transporting people. Waymo and UPS are partnering on a pilot package-delivery program in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The pilot program will start this quarter, according to a Waymo blog post.

The pilot program will use the same Chrysler Pacifica minivans as the Waymo One ridesharing service, which also operates in the Phoenix metro area. The minivans will pick up packages at UPS Stores around Phoenix, and take them to a UPS hub in nearby Tempe, Arizona, according to Waymo. Cars will drive autonomously, but with a trained human operator on board at all times in case of problems, Waymo said.

Read more