Waymo promised it would launch a public self-driving ride-share service by the end of 2018, but instead, it will start with a limited-scale service for screened riders.
Google's self-driving car subsidiary unveiled Waymo One on Wednesday, which provides self-driving taxis to a few hundred riders the company has already cleared as part of its early rider's program. Despite the fact the service will not be open to the public as promised, it's a major step forward. Waymo One marks the first time the company will charge a fare for an autonomous ride. Self-driving car developers are eager to begin recouping investment costs, and Waymo is the first to unlock a revenue stream with its robo taxis.
Reuters reported it had the chance to experience Waymo One, which will be offered in Arizona exclusively for now. The self-driving cars will operate in a geofenced 100 square-mile area in metro Phoenix, covering the suburbs of Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert. The report said the prices are competitive with rivals Uber and Lyft, which feature human drivers for their ride-share services. A 15-minute, three-mile-long trip cost $7.59, while a similar Lyft ride might cost $7.22.
However, despite the media recognizing Waymo as the leader in the self-driving car sector, the ride was described as "slow and jerky" at times. The Waymo self-driving car also had trouble recognizing what pedestrians planned to do. For example, the car stopped as it identified a pedestrian standing at a crosswalk and stood still even though it was clear to humans onboard that the individual was not going to cross the street, riders said.
The private ride-share service will also still feature a human backup driver in case of emergency, but Waymo plans to phase them out in the future. Riders also have access to Waymo operators via a touchscreen panel in the backseats to remedy any questions or concerns.
Despite the technology's slow pace, Reuters observed something remarkable: not once did the human backup driver need to take control of the car.