Waymo to launch commercial driverless car ride sharing service this fall

Waymo, Alphabet’s [Google’s] self-driving car unit, is preparing to launch the first commercial ride-sharing service powered by self-driving vehicles with no human “safety” drivers as soon as this fall, according to two people briefed about the plan.

Two anonymous sources have told Amir Efrati that Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, is preparing to launch “a commercial ride-sharing service powered by self-driving vehicles with no human ‘safety’ drivers as soon as this fall.”

There is no guarantee that Waymo will hit this ambitious target. Waymo believes its technology is very close to being ready for commercial use. And it suggests that Waymo is likely to introduce a fully driverless car network in 2018 if it doesn’t do so in the remaining months of 2017.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik faces pressure from his boss, Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page, to transform Waymo’s impressive self-driving technology into a shipping product. Page had been pushing for a launch by the end of 2016. But a major deal with Ford to produce the necessary vehicles fell through, forcing Waymo to scramble and sign a smaller deal with Fiat Chrysler to supply minivans.

Waymo’s service is likely to launch first in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb where Waymo has done extensive testing. Waymo chose the Phoenix area for its favorable weather, its wide, well-maintained streets, and the relative lack of pedestrians. Another important factor was the legal climate. Arizona has some of the nation’s most permissive laws regarding self-driving vehicles.

Most of Waymo’s rivals are aiming to release self-driving cars in 2020, 2021, or later. Even if Waymo’s schedule slips a few months and it introduces a self-driving car service in the middle of 2018 instead of late 2017, that will still give the company a multiple-year head start over most of its rivals.

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