The age of the driverless taxi has arrived – at least in parts of Phoenix, Arizona. Self-driving car company Waymo, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, announced its autonomous vehicles are now available to the general public (or at least paying customers).
The service is only available in a limited area for now, both because regulations in Arizona are relatively permissive and because the cars need a detailed three-dimensional map to tell them all about the road environment.
Until earlier this year, the self-driving vehicles were under testing and were used in 5-10% of Waymo’s rides. The service has been shut because of the pandemic, but is now back and Waymo is aiming to increase availability.
Waymo One currently requires a human driver to be present to supervise the self-driving care and override it when necessary, but the new announcement means fully autonomous, unsupervised vehicles. If successful, passengers will have entirely free time in the back seat.
Safety is still a concern though. Waymo claim trials in excess of 20 million miles of autonomous driving as of January 2020. While this sounds reassuring, with current US death rates at 1 per 100 million miles this is woefully small to demonstrate safety on par with human drivers.