12-12 Waymo autonomous car

[Image above] This Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is one of the autonomous vehicles that make up the Waymo One fleet, a self-driving taxi service that launched in Phoenix, Arizona, on December 5. Credit: Waymo, YouTube


You just got out of a late-night movie and need a ride home. You pull out your phone, open an app, and submit your request. But when the car arrives to pick you up, you notice something slightly off—there is no driver operating the wheel!

Last Wednesday, December 5, this situation became a reality for a select group of people in Arizona when Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Alphabet, launched its first commercial autonomous ride-hailing service in the Phoenix suburbs.

Dubbed Waymo One, this self-driving taxi service began operating on the public roads of Phoenix in April 2017 for a 400-person focus group called the Early Riders. After the past year-and-a-half of testing, Waymo last Wednesday started the transition of moving some of their Early Riders over to the full Waymo One system, meaning these Early Riders now pay for their rides. Once Waymo is satisfied with how the Early Riders handle the full Waymo One system, they will open the app up to the general public. How quickly that release date will come, however, is unknown.

“We want to understand each step,” says Dan Chu, head of product at Waymo, in an interview with The Verge. “How are people responding? How are people feeling? Then, as people are comfortable with that, it means we can broaden out.”

A display screen lets Waymo One passengers see how the car makes its decisions. Credit: Roadshow, YouTube

For the moment, the cars will operate with a trained Waymo driver sitting in the driver’s seat to help put passengers at ease—and to take over during tricky maneuvers with which the cars still struggle, like unguarded left turns. In the future, though, Waymo eventually plans to remove the drivers completely.

Autonomous cars, like regular vehicles, are filled with glass and ceramic parts to ensure everything runs smoothly. You can take a look at the ACerS Bulletin December 2017 feature story on the role of ceramics and glass in the $4 trillion auto industry to learn more. But for those of you wanting to learn about Waymo One in particular, take a look at this week’s video.

In this week’s video, Tim Stevens of Roadshow rides in a Waymo One car. During his ride, Stevens explains how the car’s sensors work, what features are included to put passengers at ease, and future plans for expansion (hint: is a Jaguar more your style?).

While Waymo is the first company to go public with their service, they will face competition from FordGeneral Motors and Honda, and Uber (though Uber is facing severe setbacks after one of their vehicles killed a pedestrian in March). Additionally, there is one challenge all these companies must face if they wish to successfully launch their brands: public resistance.

Multiple surveys showed that a majority of people do not feel safe around self-driving cars and do not want them in their neighborhoods, so the goal for autonomous vehicle manufacturers will be to assuage these fears and bring public opinion over to their side.

It is your move, Waymo. Let’s see how you can do.

Credit: Roadshow, YouTube