Google's Waymo is now offering free self-driving car rides to the public in Phoenix, Arizona, marking the next step in the ambitious program.
People from the greater Phoenix metropolitan area who would like to get a ride (or more) in Waymo's autonomous driving minivans can now apply and ride for free as often as they want.
This marks the first time that Waymo, the self-driving car division that spun off from Google in 2016, is opening its services to the public. Waymo says this new step is an "early rider program" aiming to determine how self-driving cars on demand will fit into people's daily lives.
Free Waymo Self-Driving Car Rides: How It Works
Phoenix residents who want to take a ride in a Waymo self-driving minivan can now apply on the company's website. Waymo will choose riders based on the kind of commute they need and how willing they are to use the autonomous driving service as their main means of transportation.
Although the vehicle will drive by itself as much as possible, a human Waymo test driver will still be behind the wheel at all times, ready to take over should the situation require it.
Free self-driving car rides will be available only to Phoenix residents or people in surrounding towns such as Tempe, Gilbert, and Chandler. According to Waymo, the service areas are twice the size of San Francisco.
Waymo hopes to attract hundreds of riders with this program and to accommodate demand, it's ordering 500 more Chrysler Pacifica minivans from Fiat, the carmaker it teamed up with for the program. Once it gets the minivans from Fiat Chrysler, Waymo will equip them with in-house laser sensors.
"We want as many people as possible to experience our technology, and we want to bring self-driving cars to more communities sooner," says Waymo CEO John Krafcik.
Big Win For Alphabet
This new "early rider program" is a significant milestone for Alphabet, Google's parent company, as it's had autonomous vehicles on public roads for years without picking up any passengers.
Uber, for instance, already started taking riders in Pittsburg back in September 2014, and it also launched a limited project in Tempe, Arizona in the meantime. However, there's been some bad blood between Uber and Waymo, as the latter is suing the former for allegedly stealing some of its autonomous driving secrets.
Unlike other states such as California, Arizona doesn't have such strict regulations for self-driving vehicles. Consequently, Waymo can conduct its testing without having to obtain a license or offer any data to regulators regarding its move to start taking regular people for a ride in self-driving cars.
Waymo's self-driving service in Phoenix, Arizona will be on a limited basis at first. Selected applicants will be able to hail a self-driving minivan via the Waymo app and rides will be free, but Waymo will ask riders to share details about how and when they use the service.
Would you take a ride in one of Waymo's self-driving minivans? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.