Are you ready for self-driving cars? According to a Bloomberg report, Google is. And they will be coming to a car service near you in as soon as next month. Engadget notes that the rollout will be limited at first.
“It’s been a long time in coming, but Waymo finally appears to be on the cusp of launching a commercial self-driving car service. Bloomberg sources claim that the Alphabet-owned brand will launch its autonomous transport option in the Phoenix suburbs sometime in early December. Many details are reportedly still under wraps, but it would operate under a new brand and ‘directly’ challenge ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft, right down to the pricing. It’d serve a roughly 100 square mile area and would initially rely on passengers from Waymo’s Early Rider Program, but they would be free to talk about it take people from outside the program.”
There are a number of limits in place. First, there is the limitation of where these driverless cars will be, exclusively in the Phoenix suburbs. There was no reason given for this choice of launch site. Presumably, regulations were favorable, the population is sufficiently large enough, and the roads and traffic patterns are sufficiently predictable.
To that last point, the second limitation is a 100 square mile area. It is likely this area has been well mapped by Google. So there should be fewer surprises for the system to deal with.
The final limitation is the riders themselves. This will only be open to the people in Waymo’s Early Rider Program. If you are someplace other than Phoenix, you are too early for the program. It is limited to the Phoenix area which includes Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert. If you are any place else, you don’t qualify.
The purpose of the program is to give people a chance to experience self-driving cars and provide helpful feedback that will help shape the future of the technology, at least according the Waymo’s marketing material. Only one person per household needs to apply. People outside the program can also ride, but only if they are with a person who is a part of the program.
Under the safety section, Waymo mentions that they were a part of Google, and the first wave of self-driving cars will have safety drivers at the ready. That said, the stated goal is to have the car service quickly transition into truly driverless cars.
All eyes will be on this program. It is the first of its kind and will pave the way for a driverless future, or set our hopes and dreams back decades if it goes disastrously. This is one of those situations where we really don’t know what will happen next.