has not been shy about its aspirations of launching a fully-fledged driverless ride-hailing service, and now, we have a slightly better idea when it's coming and how it'll work.
At this week's
conference, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said that his company's self-driving ride-hailing service will launch in earnest this year in Phoenix. Considering the pilot program only kicked off last November, this announcement shows Waymo is very, very confident in its vehicles.
Right now, Waymo's pilot program has ordinary Phoenicians hailing rides in an autonomous (and now also driverless)
Pacifica. The rides are limited to a geofenced area, and they're offered free of charge, but it's unclear who has access to the pilot program, if there are any restrictions in place at all.
Not much appears to change in the shift to the proper service, except for one thing: money. Waymo confirmed to
that the service will be paid and open to the public, which means the days of free van rides around Phoenix are over -- unless, of course, you take that guy in the airbrushed conversion van's offer. He'll still be around, although I think I'd trust the robots more.
It's also still unclear whether or not the current pilot program's geofence will expand prior to launch. The program only operates within a defined part of Phoenix where Waymo is most comfortable running its service. Expanding to the entire Phoenix area in one fell swoop is possible, but given Waymo's metered approach to its AV rollout thus far, a graduated expansion seems more likely. Another detail we're looking forward to hearing about is whether or not the initial service will have safety drivers, which is how Waymo began its development work in Arizona. We'll know more closer to launch, when Waymo promised to release additional details.