WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
Many people think the future takes a long time to arrive, when in matter of fact it’s arriving faster than it ever has in the past, and now that Waymo’s service is live others will quickly follow.
Self-driving taxis, the type that stay on the ground and not in the air like the sky taxi’s in Dubai, are finally here, and what I mean by here is that, depending on where you live, you can now use an app, call one up, get in, take a ride, and get out, and all without needing to be part of a “special testing program,” or with an “assistant driver.” I’m talking real bonafide rides. Welcome to the future.
Chandler, Tempe, Ahwatukee, and Mesa are Phoenix suburbs with near perfect grids that are dotted with homes and big box stores, the occasional golf course, and the state’s largest university, and they are now the proving grounds for a major development in autonomous transportation because this is where self-driving vehicle company Waymo, a Google spinoff owned by parent company Alphabet, has started rolling out it’s self-driving taxi service, with the authorities blessings, without a human test driver behind the wheel.
The ride of their lives?
Waymo CEO John Krafick released a video and talked about the move during a session Tuesday at the South By Southwest conference in Austin.
It’s a watershed moment for a company that has been working toward this goal for nearly a decade. Waymo first began testing its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in Chandler in 2016, then in last April, the company launched an early rider program that let real people in the Phoenix area use an app to hail one. But these rides always had a human behind the wheel, just in case.
Waymo then took the program to the next level last November and removed employees, and passengers, from its test fleet, sending dozens of empty self-driving minivans onto the streets of greater Phoenix. Now, early riders have the ability to hail one and hop in, and before long, perhaps, so will the rest of us when they come to a town near you…
For now, the driverless rider program is small but over time it’ll grow considerably. In January, Fiat Chrysler said it will supply Waymo with “thousands” of modified Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans as the startup prepares to launch a self-driving taxi service, and that’s just the beginning with Ford, Uber and others announcing similar roll out plans by 2021.
Like I said, the future has arrived, and it’s landed in Phoenix.