Autonomous Vehicles

Waymo driverless taxi service tests free Wi-Fi

If you hail one of Google's self-driving shuttles, you might just score yourself some free broadband.

Waymo is reportedly beta testing Wi-Fi in its fleet of self-driving taxis.

Waymo

You could be forgiven for thinking this was already a thing, but Waymo's self-driving taxis are reportedly starting to be equipped with free Wi-Fi for passengers. Yes, the subsidiary of internet giant Alphabet apparently didn't already have the technology. This, despite Google's autonomous vehicles each requiring a huge data pipe to the cloud for self-driving purposes.

That's according to Reuters, which first reported that complimentary high-speed connectivity is being tested in the company's fleet of Waymo One AV taxis in metropolitan Phoenix, where the company counts around 1,000 participating users.

Much of the promise of self-driving vehicles has been the idea that not needing to keep one's hands on the wheel will enable the recovery of personal time for enhanced leisure or work -- like streaming the latest episode of Stranger Things or working on next week's PowerPoint presentation. So it's somewhat surprising that Wi-Fi apparently hasn't been offered until now. 

According to Reuters, at the moment, Wi-Fi connectivity is only available to select users who beta test new features. These customers are barred from discussing their ridership experiences, but word of this change has evidently still slipped out.

"We've tested in-car entertainment features within our early rider program, including Wi-Fi," a Waymo spokesperson confirmed to Roadshow, "but can't speak to any further details or potential plans to incorporate this or other features into our Waymo One public commercial service."

Waymo has steadily been adding customer conveniences to its self-driving fleet, including offering child seats in each of its minivans. The company added Google Play Music streaming audio back in April. "Our music integration is a great recent example of one of the features we've tested first in our early rider program to understand how riders would respond to it and give us feedback on, before then rolling it out to our Waymo One public service this spring," the spokesperson added.

If you're in metro Phoenix, you too may be able to hail a Waymo One self-driving robotaxi.

Waymo

Beyond testing Wi-Fi and streaming music, Waymo is also beta testing new features to help ease customers' minds about being in an AV. On Waymo One test vehicles' display screens, instead of static icons, the company is now displaying "more granular laser points to render pedestrians and cyclists because ... our riders appreciate seeing their arms and legs moving," notes the company spokesperson. The theory appears to be that these dynamic icons more readily convey that the vehicle is aware of these individuals, a feeling that enhances passenger security.

Alphabet launched Waymo One as a paid service rather quietly back in December, and it has been steadily ramping up its operations, even as both the auto and tech industries have been tamping down previously optimistic timelines about widespread AV deployment.

Earlier in July, Waymo became just the fourth company to be granted California's Autonomous Vehicle Pilot permit, but for the moment, it's only offering paid customer rides in Arizona. Waymo has had a California AV testing permit since 2014, and it operates a sizable fleet of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans and Jaguar I-Pace electric crossover SUVs, which have been upfitted with robotaxi hardware.

In April, Waymo One expanded its autonomous shuttle service in a partnership deal with ride-hailing staple Lyft -- one of the services that has been viewed as a Waymo rival.

Update, 9:18 a.m. PT: Adds Waymo responses and further details.