Waymo has become the first company, at least in the United States, to receive regulatory approval for the commercialization of a self-driving taxi service where no human driver is required.
The approval was given to Waymo in late January by the Arizona Department of Transportation, Ryan Harding, a spokesperson for the agency, confirmed to Bloomberg in an interview published Friday.
Waymo, previously known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, has been testing its self-driving cars in 25 cities across the U.S., including Atlanta, San Francisco, Metro Detroit, and Kirkland, Washington. The bulk of the testing, however, has taken place in Phoenix, Arizona, where Waymo plans to first offer its self-driving taxi service to the general public later in 2018.
Waymo's fleet will be made up of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids running the company's own self-driving technology. Waymo in January ordered thousands of the minivans as it prepares to launch its self-driving taxi service in multiple cities.
Anyone keen to use the service will be able to hail one of Waymo's self-driving taxis using a smartphone app or website, in the same way that you'd order an Uber or similar ride-sharing service today. Waymo hasn't mentioned pricing, however a self-driving taxi service promises to deliver cheaper prices due to the human factor being eliminated. In other words, aspiring taxi drivers may want to consider an alternative career.
And it's not just the taxi industry Waymo is looking to disrupt. The company is also looking at using self-driving cars for logistics and deliveries as well as for longer-term rentals.
Although a human won't be in the driver's seat of Waymo's self-driving taxis, an engineer will ride with users at the service's inception. Eventually, though, Waymo will remove the engineer as well. At this point passengers will rely on a button to stop the car should they need to. And digital screens mounted to the back of headrests will display the current route and other key information.
General Motors is another leader in the self-driving car space. The automaker in January unveiled a self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EV devoid of a steering wheel and pedals. The plan is to start testing the cars on public roads in 2019, though getting regulatory approval has been a little more difficult for GM due to its fleet being made up of cars without steering wheels or pedals.