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Real people are now hailing Waymo’s robotic taxis, without a driver in sight

The future arrived, and it’s a minivan. Waymo’s fleet of totally driverless cars in Phoenix, Arizona, now lets members of the public hail a ride around the suburbs.

The news: Waymo's CEO, John Krafick, announced at SXSW in Austin, Texas, that the firm is offering trips to so-called "early riders"—the first people to have signed up to use its robotic Chrysler Pacifica taxis. The minivans don’t have a safety driver behind the wheel, but someone can take control remotely if necessary.

Why it matters: The cars have been in testing without a safety driver for a few months. But this long-awaited advance is the first time people have been able to simply hail a totally driver-free ride using an app, as they would an Uber. It's a big moment for a firm that hopes to turn its autonomy tech into a viable business by offering driverless rides.

But: There is, of course, stiff competition on Waymo's tail—not least from Uber itself, which is building its own autonomous cars but also has the ultimate in ride-hailing chops. In fact, Uber reportedly expressed interest in working with Waymo to combine the two companies' skills, though it’s not yet clear if that might happen.

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