A number of companies are currently testing autonomous vehicles on public roads, but very few are offering the public a chance to experience these vehicles. That's where Waymo comes in.
Waymo has opened up its early rider program to residents in the Phoenix area. The program will see "hundreds" of people given access to Waymo's fleet of self-driving minivans. Participants can call on them for whatever they need, whenever they need it -- no matter if it's a grocery run, taking the kids to soccer practice or just heading over to a friend's.
While the program is public knowledge now, Waymo was operating a smaller pilot program unbeknownst to anyone. For the last two months, Waymo let a select few Phoenix residents make use of the autonomous Chrysler Pacificas. Since that seemed to be a success, it's expanding to include more members of the public.
Waymo already has 100 modified Pacificas in its fleet, but with the introduction of the early rider program, it's going to need some more. That's why Chrysler will send another 500 Pacificas in Waymo's direction, which the tech company will then outfit with its self-driving tech.
If you were really into dad jokes, you could say that there will be way mo' self-driving Pacificas on the road very soon.
Formerly part of Google, Waymo has been on a tear since it split off and picked up the new name. The company has been operating its self-driving cars for years, and it shows in the results. In its 2016 disengagement report, wherein it outlines all the times a human had to take control of its self-driving cars in California, Waymo reported just 0.20 disengagements per 1,000 miles. The company drove over 635,000 autonomous miles, and its systems disengaged just 124 times. Since that's still not perfect, Waymo early riders will be hanging out with an engineer in the driver's seat.
The only other company to really get the public involved with its autonomous development is Uber. The ride-sharing outfit offered Arizonans rides in its Volvo XC90 development cars, and it briefly did so in California, as well. However, a kerfuffle over permits led Uber's autonomous cars to leave The Golden State briefly, only to return under the condition that they won't pick up regular passengers.