Waymo Shifts to Robot-Only Chauffeurs and will offer commercial service in 2018

Waymo has begun testing autonomous vehicles on public roads without human safety drivers at the wheel, and early next year will make its robotic chauffeurs available to Phoenix-area commuters.

Waymo technicians are already hailing its Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in and around Phoenix via a mobile app and leaving it to the artificial intelligence operating the vehicles to figure out how to get to requested destinations. Within a few months, Waymo vans loaded with laser LiDAR, radar, cameras, computers, AI and no human safety drivers will pick up Arizonans registered in its “Early Riders” program.

Waymo is likely to start offering a paid ride service sometime in 2018.

In April it expanded a vehicle supply deal with Fiat Chrysler to a total of 600 minivans for its fleet, when it also announced the Phoenix test program for passengers who signed up to be Early Riders. It’s also been in talks for a potential partnership with Honda.

In May it announced plans for an autonomous vehicle pilot program with ride-hailing service Lyft, and in June inked a service deal with rental car giant Avis to help maintain its Phoenix area test fleet. That month Waymo also disclosed that it’s testing self-driving technology on large commercial trucks.

Waymo minivans operate at SAE Level 4 autonomous capability which means they can drive without a human at the wheel in most circumstances. They are trying to reachLevel 5 capability, in which vehicles can drive anywhere a human can under all conditions.

Waymo has a 43 page report on the improved safety of self driving cars.