Grendelkhan / CC BY-SA

While Tesla and other automobile companies have been making strides in autonomous driving, the technology has not really been widespread, mostly because not all of us can afford a self driving car. However, it looks like we won’t have to live long enough to get a taste of this tech. Alphabet-owned Waymo, has announced that it will open access to its self driving ride hailing service to the residents of Phoenix, Arizona.

The company, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., had been running trials of its self-driving taxi service in the city before COVID-19 struck.

John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo said, “It’s a really, really big deal, we think, for us, and for the world”. Due to the outbreak of the pandemic, Waymo had to pause the trial of its service in Phoenix to around 1,500 Waymo One customers. But now, starting immediately, these customers can continue using the ‘rider only’ service on the platform and can even invite their friends and families to ride along with them. Waymo said it will open the service to everyone in Phoenix in a few weeks’ time.

Waymo’s driverless fleet includes 300 Chrysler Pacifica minivans that will be operating in a 50-square-mile area only. Krafcik said, “For the next several weeks, perhaps a month or more, every ride, 100% of our rides with Waymo One, will be fully driverless.” The company is also planning to introduce a riding option with a safety driver in the car. Krafcik told TechCrunch that there will be several modes operating in Phoenix in the future and some of it will have ‘trained safety operators behind the wheel’.

Co-founded by Sebastian Thrun and Anthony Levandowski, Waymo was initially launched as a project by Google help to develop driverless cars in 2009. It was called Project Chauffeur before it was spun off into a unit under the Alphabet Inc. and renamed Waymo. By the end of 2015, Project Chauffeur had credited millions of miles to its driverless program.

In 2018, the company announced that it will open up its driverless ride-hailing service called Waymo One in Phoenix, Arizona to select customers. It operated in a 100-square-mile area southeast of Phoenix that includes Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe, and catered to around 1,500 customers. Krafcik had said that out Waymo One completes over 1000 trips a week, around 5% to 10% of which are completely driverless.

Krafcik said, “It took us two years to get three cars up and running at the same time in fully driverless mode on the streets of Phoenix. It took another year to get a hundred cars.” He added that the company is currently in the process to add in-vehicle barriers between the front row and passenger rows for its rides with ‘safety driver’.

Back in May, Waymo raised over $3 billion in funds for the first time from outside its parent company, Alphabet Inc. The investment round was led by Silver Lake, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Mubadala Investment Company. In June it also announced a partnership with Volvo to help integrate its self-driving abilities into Volvo’s vehicles.