It's been operating in plain sight as a pilot program for over a year now, but it appears Waymo is just about ready to flip the switch and launch its first commercial driverless car service.
Waymo will launch its hotly anticipated commercial self-driving car service in December, Bloomberg reports, citing sources familiar with the matter. This shouldn't come as too big of a surprise, since CEO John Krafcik said in May that, but that doesn't mean Waymo is ready to cop to anything just yet.
"Waymo has been working on self-driving technology for nearly a decade, with safety at the core of everything we do," said a Waymo spokesperson in an emailed statement. "We've been laying the groundwork for our service, beginning with the launch of our early rider program and we'll continue to commercialize our technology and expand our capabilities over time." Waymo sent a similar comment to Bloomberg, declining to confirm a timeline.
One interesting tidbit about Waymo's commercial operation is that it won't be called Waymo. It'll have its own unique name, but Bloomberg's source said that it is a very tightly held secret and won't be uttered until Waymo's official announcement about the service's launch.
When it launches, it will reportedly serve as a direct competitor to ride hailing stalwarts Uber and Lyft. Bloomberg's source told the outlet that safety drivers, who aren't always present in Waymo's pilot-program vehicles, will once again return to the driver's seat, just in case. For its commercial launch, Waymo will reportedly rely on the same fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans it used for its pilot program, which will remain in operation to test new features destined for the public service.
Bloomberg reports that the service will be a paid one, so don't expect any free rides. It'll use a dedicated app just like Uber or Lyft, where a user can call for a car, which will eventually drive itself to the user's location before jetting off to wherever. Neither Waymo nor Bloomberg's source has talked about the specific pricing structure yet, which means we'll likely have to wait until the actual launch to figure out how much the service will cost.
That said, most of us probably won't get a crack at the service to begin with. According to Bloomberg's source, the program will start out limited, focusing on servicing "perhaps dozens or hundreds" of users around Phoenix, many of whom will likely be former pilot-program users who have experience with these vehicles already. Expect expansion to be slow and steady.
Waymo isn't content with Arizona alone. The company was recently, the first company to receive such a permit. It'll need to maintain its advantage over rivals that are slowly gaining steam, like GM's Cruise Automation, which hopes to launch its own AV service in the next year or so, and Uber is ahead of its plans to add self-driving vehicles to its own ride hailing service.
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: Take a look at the second vehicle to enter Waymo's fleet.