Waymo opens robo-taxi service to the public in US city

Waymo, the autonomous car unit of Google-parent Alphabet, opened its robo-taxi project to the general public in the US city of Phoenix on Thursday, becoming the first widely available driverless ride service.

Now that the project has shifted out of its test phase, anyone signed up through the Waymo One smartphone app can summon autonomous vehicles to travel throughout the Arizona city’s metro area, chief executive John Krafcik said.

“Members of the public service can now take friends and family along on their rides and share their experience with the world,” he added.

“We’ll start with those who are already a part of Waymo One and, over the next several weeks, welcome more people directly into the service through our app.”

The Waymo One app is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play.

Waymo started testing a fully driverless ride service in Phoenix some three years ago with self-driving technology built into Chrysler Pacifica vehicles.

Between five and 10 percent of rides through its service so far in 2020 have been taken in fully driverless vehicles by an exclusive group of riders who signed non-disclosure agreements.

“We expect our new fully driverless service to be very popular, and we’re thankful to our riders for their patience as we ramp up availability to serve demand,” Krafcik said.

Waymo plans to bolster the ride service fleet with vehicles that use self-driving technology but also have safety operators behind the wheel.

Waymo early this year raised $2.25 billion in its first external funding round to accelerate its deployment of autonomous cars and trucks.

Born in a Google lab devoted to big-vision new technology, Waymo became a subsidiary of Alphabet in 2016 — and has been one of the tech giant’s “other bets” that have been losing money in recent years.

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Waymo becomes first company to launch driverless ride-hailing to public

The company shut down its service earlier this year because of the pandemic. But “we expect to reach and exceed that volume as we ramp back up,” Barna said.

Previously, driverless trips were offered only to an exclusive group of early adopters. But in “the near term, 100% of our rides will be fully driverless,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik wrote in a blog post announcing the move.

Waymo said driverless service would initially be offered to existing users of its Waymo One ride-hailing app, but the service would be expanded to the broader public “over the next several weeks.”

Companies across Silicon Valley are racing to make self-driving cars a reality, a technological moonshot that would make the economics of ride-hailing much more lucrative by sparing the expense of human drivers. So far, progress has been slow as companies have delayed their rollouts and extended their timelines, confronted by the challenge of programming cars to respond to the near-infinite stream of scenarios a driver could face. The pandemic threw a further wrench into the companies’ plans.

Waymo has long been seen as the industry leader in the space, trailed by competitors such as ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft, Amazon-acquired Zoox, General Motors’ Cruise and automakers pursuing autonomy, such as Tesla.

So far, companies have taken testing of self-driving vehicles to states with varied geographic landscapes and climates to see how they react in a variety of situations. Prominent pilots have rolled out, for example, in California, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

Arizona’s lax regulatory landscape and arid climate have made it a haven for driverless vehicles. But the experiments have not been without incident. In 2018, a self-driving Uber fatally struck a pedestrian crossing a darkly lit street with her bicycle in Tempe, Ariz. The driver monitoring the car was looking at

Self-driving-car startups that could become next Waymo, VCs say

  • Business Insider asked seven venture capitalists to choose the two self-driving startups they believe have the most potential.
  • At least one of the VC’s picks had to come from outside their firm’s portfolio.
  • Many of their choices reflected the autonomy industry’s increasing focus on trucking and deliveries over ride-hail.
  • Aurora Innovation was picked four times, more than any other company.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Self-driving taxis have taken longer to reach widespread adoption than experts predicted during the 2010s. That may be why venture capitalists see potential in autonomous-vehicle startups that are focused on applications, like trucking and mining, that present fewer technological challenges than ride-hailing.

Business Insider asked seven venture capitalists to pick the two autonomous-vehicle startups they believe have the most promise, with the caveat that only one could be a company their firm has invested in. Their selections reflected the industry’s increasing focus on business models that present a quicker path to commercialization than robotaxis and consumer cars.

These 10 startups could play a major role in that pivot.

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