Reports based on information obtained from people briefed on Waymo’s plans suggest the Google spinoff could be planning to launch a rideshare service composed of self-driving cars as early as this fall.
Citing sources Silicon Beat and The Information claim that the service would involve self-driving vehicles “with no human safety drivers.” Waymo currently tests its self-driving prototypes in and around Chandler, Arizona, where engineers are trying to iron-out wrinkles in the artificial intelligence that could lead the vehicles to become confused, such as making an unprotected left turn.
Last month in a blog post, Waymo lead software engineer James Stout expounded on some of the difficulties in programming self-driving vehicles, with a specific emphasis on left turn complications: “Turning left too soon may cause a driving hazard for oncoming traffic; making the move too late may mean frustrated drivers behind.”
Even with a successful launch, Waymo wouldn’t become the first to offer a commercially-available self-driving car service, since Uber famously deployed a fleet of self-driving Volvos in Pittsburgh last year. Waymo would, however, be the first to employ the services of completely driverless vehicles for commercial purposes.
Beating Uber to the post in truly driverless ride-sharing would no doubt be its own reward for Waymo, as the two are currently locked in a bitter legal debate over allegations that Uber stole self-driving trade secrets.
Waymo boasts partnerships with multiple corporations ranging from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles to Intel, so any evolution of its testing that removes a potential failsafe — such as a driver — would denote a major step in terms of the engineers’ (and legal departments’) confidence in the system as a whole.