News: Waymo Driverless Minivans Are Offering a Free Spin in Arizona

Waymo Driverless Minivans Are Offering a Free Spin in Arizona

The sun-drenched people of Phoenix can now sign up to ride in an automated car, for free, courtesy of Waymo. The Alphabet affiliate announced its "early ride program," which will (hopefully) demonstrate how self-driving cars will fit into people's everyday lives. Highlighting a challenge Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has spoken about that faces the driverless industry.

Waymo has a sign-up option on its website where the company will select participants in Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert. Riders will be determined based on the types of trips they want to take and whether they would be willing to use driverless as their primary mode of transportation. We certainly would!

As an early rider, you'll be able to use our self-driving cars to go places you frequent every day, from work, to school, to the movies and more. Then, you'll be able to share your thoughts and experiences with our team to help shape the future of how our self-driving cars will work.

There will be a Waymo driver behind the wheel to prevent any driverless disasters, but Waymo is adamant that they are using the least amount of human intervention possible in the Arizona trials.

The Alphabet affiliate is obviously positive about the public's response and has gone about organizing 500 Chrysler Pacifica minivans from Fiat Chrysler, its auto-partner in this venture. The vehicles will be fitted with in-house laser sensors. These new models will be added to Waymo's existing 100-car fleet which has been driving around Phoenix and Mountain View, California since 2016.

Speaking about the move in a Medium post published on April 24, John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo said:

Over the last eight years, we've been focused on the technology behind our self-driving cars: racking up millions of miles of experience, teaching our cars advanced driving skills, and improving the performance of our software. Now, with this program, we're turning our attention to the people who will benefit from this technology: people like Ted, Candace, and their kids, who will be using our self-driving cars in their daily lives. We'll learn things like where people want to go in a self-driving car, how they communicate with our vehicles, and what information and controls they want to see inside.

It really is a massive step forward for Waymo: this is the first time the public can experience driverless technology directly from the backseat. The company also publicized the people and families who took part in their 'early riders' initiative, like parents Ted and Candace, and Priscilla and Victor from Brazil. An astute marketing move to help humanize their initiative.

Waymo publicized its "early riders," like Ted, Candace, and their family. Image by Waymo/YouTube

Uber, Waymo's nemesis in and out of the courtroom, was trialing cars in Pittsburgh since last September. But now they have also moved into Tempe, Arizona, to experiment — and apparently — step on Waymo's toes.

The rivals have been embroiled in a court battle which has been ongoing since February when Waymo accused Uber's driverless lead and former Google staffer, Anthony Levandowski of stealing 14,000 sensitive documents related to their LiDAR technology.

The whole legal fiasco has forced Uber to admit that its technology is nothing compared to Google's and that the Waymo lawsuit was a "misfire" in their direction:

Waymo's injunction motion is a misfire: there is no evidence that any of the 14,000 files in question ever touched Uber's servers, and Waymo's assertion that our multi-lens LIDAR is the same as their single-lens LIDAR is clearly false.

Ouch! That admission must have stung CEO Travis Kalanick and delighted Waymo, in light of Uber's string of misfortune this year. There were driverless crashes, an executive exodus, and claims of workplace sexism levelled at Kalanick and co. this year.

This court case poses a threat to Uber's success if Waymo can prove they stole the aforementioned documents. But perhaps a larger threat to them would be if Waymo wins the hearts and minds of the people of Arizona in the driverless race first. Word of mouth in such a young industry can grow, or kill a brand, and with the year Uber is having, the last thing they need is more bad word of mouth.

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Cover image by Waymo.

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