Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, is now giving the public free rides in it’s fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
The Early Riders program just launched in Phoenix and will give unlimited rides to 500 people in order to further test and gather data on their self-driving car technology. The program is looking to push Waymo into the public, without many limitations, in order to gather more data on how residents would use the product. There will be an engineer in the car at all times for this initial test in order to make sure nothing goes wrong but the next step will be to allow the Waymo cars to be fully automated without engineers present. “Over the course of this trial, we’ll be accepting hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs who want to ride in and give feedback about Waymo’s self-driving cars. Rather than offering people one or two rides, the goal of this program is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco” said John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo.
The addition of 500 Chrysler Pacifica minivans pushes the total of the fleet up to 600 units which is a massive increase over a short period of time. It’s clear that Google wants Waymo to be fully commercialized as soon as possible. They are accelerating the program much faster than any of their competitors including Uber who hasn’t come close in terms of cars on the road. Allowing real people to use the fleet of autonomous cars on an everyday basis for free will give Waymo a ton of usage data that they will be able to use to further develop their sensors and technology. I would not be surprised if this Early Riders program is pushed into other cities in the coming weeks and months.