Waymo edges toward full-fledged robo-taxi service with iOS app launch

Waymo is moving steadily toward its ultimate goal of a full-fledged robo-taxi service with the launch this week of its ridesharing app for the iPhone. It follows the Android version that landed earlier in the year.

The app has actually been out since Waymo launched its robo-taxi trial service for paying customers in Phoenix, Arizona, 12 months ago, but at that time you could only access it by being accepted into Waymo’s early rider program.

Now that the app is available via the iOS and Android app stores, anyone can download it and sign up to join the program. If you’re in the Phoenix area, you’ll be added to a waitlist, after which you’ll have the chance to use the app to request a ride in one of its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans as part of the Waymo One robo-taxi service.

Expanding service

Alphabet-owned Waymo, which was spun out of Google’s self-driving program in 2016, said this week that more than 1,500 people are now using its Waymo One driverless taxi service at least once a month, marking a three-fold increase from January 2019.

It’s not clear how many extra riders Waymo plans to add to its service in the coming months now that the app has wider availability, but let’s hope you won’t have to wait too long if you do decide to sign up to join the program.

It certainly promises to be a fascinating experience for those interested in taking their first trip in an autonomous vehicle. Waymo’s robo-taxis usually have a back-up driver behind the wheel to provide reassurance to riders, but in October 2019 the company started sending out fully driverless vehicles for so-called “rider only” trips.

One year on

To mark Waymo One’s first anniversary, the company offered a few tidbits about how current riders have been using the service. For example, most Waymo One rides take place in the late afternoon and into the evening, with passengers using the service for everything from commuting to work and school, to running errands and visiting family and friends.

Over the last year, the service has added various features such as music-streaming through the vehicle’s speakers, dark mode to make the minivan’s displays dimmer at night, a zoom feature so riders can take a closer look on the screen at what the vehicle is seeing, and a map view that lets riders monitor their route progress.

“We’ll continue to improve and expand our product offering in 2020 by welcoming more members of the public into Waymo One, introducing new features and capabilities into the service to make the experience even more delightful for our riders, and continuing to responsibly scale our fully driverless operations in our early-rider program and begin offering that experience to more of our riders,” Waymo said in a message posted this week.

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