Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

Waymo Has Invited the Public to Hop Into Its Self-Driving Cars

Folks living in the Phoenix area can now sign up for free on-demand rides, part of a trial meant to see how regular people integrate the autonomous cars into their everyday lives.

Want to be one of the first people in America to ride in a self-driving car? Time to pack up and move to Phoenix.

Waymo—or, the company formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project—announced Tuesday that it plans to sign up hundreds of households living in and around the Phoenix, Arizona, area for a trial that will give them free, on-demand access to self-driving cars.

“Rather than offering people one or two rides, the goal of this program is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco,” John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, wrote in a post on Medium.

The fact that Krafcik outlined how much of the greater Phoenix area will be open to riders is significant, suggesting that Waymo has mapped it in great detail and is confident that its cars will perform well there. This is similar to the approach Uber took when it launched its self-driving taxi program in Pittsburgh last year.

Uber’s Pittsburgh experiment showcased a technology that was a long way from self-sufficient (see “What to Know Before You Get In a Self-driving Car”), and since then the ride-hailing giant’s autonomous vehicle operations have had a rough ride—including being accused by Waymo of stealing its lidar technology.

Sign up for The Download
Your daily dose of what's up in emerging technology

By signing up you agree to receive email newsletters and notifications from MIT Technology Review. You can change your preferences at any time. View our Privacy Policy for more detail.

Waymo, meanwhile, appears to believe its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans and Lexus RX450h SUVs is up to the challenge of ferrying families to and from work, soccer practice, and on errands. While the company makes clear that each car will come with a human test driver, Krafcik said the purpose of the trial is to learn more about how people use Waymo's vehicles—where they go with them, how they interact with them during rides, and so on.

This could be a sign that the technology is maturing to the point that Waymo is becoming more concerned with how to make an actual business out of its cars (which was, after all, the point of spinning the company out of Google in the first place). There is also plenty of pressure from a growing list of competitors to keep pushing forward.

Regardless of the motivation, the trial is likely to provide a trove of data on what regular people do with autonomous vehicles when given the opportunity. And if Waymo’s years of experience in testing self-driving cars is any indication, there are bound to be a lot of unexpected results.

(Read more: The Verge, Waymo blog, “What to Know Before You Get in a Self-driving Car,” “Are Autonomous Cars Ready to Go It Alone?”)

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.