Waymo One has arrived. That is what Waymo has named its robotaxi service, which it officially launched in the Phoenix area yesterday. There has been a lot of speculation about what this launch might look like and while it is certainly momentous, it is also fairly limited in scope. The service is currently only available to those who have already been participants in Waymo’s “Early Rider” program. (Apparently, those participants will now be “invited” to pay for their trips in Waymo’s robotaxis.) The big difference is that customers won’t be required to sign nondisclosure agreements, as was required by the Early Rider program, nor will they continually have to provide feedback. Now they can just sit back, relax, and a enjoy a ride in robotaxi anywhere within Waymo’s 100 square mile service area.
This is indeed big news—the very first commercial robotaxi service is here. The limited nature of the roll-out, while perhaps disappointing for those are revved up and ready to request a ride in a fully autonomous vehicle, is certainly understandable from a safety standpoint. There have been a few tragic incidents involving self-driving vehicles that have garnered substantial publicity and made many wonder if AVs will really be able to deliver on the promise of making streets safer. (Of course, there is plenty of room for improvement compared to today’s standards.) To that end, Waymo’s robotaxis will continue to be staffed by a Waymo employee ready to take over should intervention be necessary. The ramp up may be slow, but Waymo does intend to make its commercial service more readily available.
If you’re wondering what a ride in one of Waymo’s robotaxis is like, Alexis C. Madrigal, a staff writer for The Atlantic, has an interesting and in-depth take on the experience. (Alexis discovers that robotaxis may be “smart” and sophisticated machines, but one thing they really don’t know how to manage? The big-box retail parking lot. If you’ve ever found navigating a massive retail parking lot to be a challenge, rest assured that computers find them even more flummoxing.)