Google’s Waymo is taking another step toward its driverless car future in Arizona, where the company is now accepting applications for a new program that gives regular people access to its fleet of self-driving minivans.
Instead of just hailing a ride every now and then, Waymo CEO John Krafcik writes in a blog post that the goal of the program “is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco.”
Once approved, riders will be able to hail a free ride using the Waymo app. In exchange for the lift, participants will be asked for feedback about how they’re using the service.
“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,” Krafcik writes.
For those wondering about their safety, of course, there will be a human behind the wheel of the vehicle at all times monitoring the car’s performance, the company notes in its FAQ for applicants to the program.
“Our goal is to develop fully self-driving vehicles that require no intervention, though as part of this early trial, there will be a test driver in each vehicle monitoring the rides at all times,” Waymo notes.
Waymo appears to be anticipating a lot of demand, adding that it’s ordering an additional 500 Chrysler Pacifica minivans from its partner Fiat Chrysler — which it will then outfit with laser sensors — in addition to the 100 vans it’s been driving in California this year.
“We want as many people as possible to experience our technology, and we want to bring self-driving cars to more communities sooner,” Krafcik says.
Waymo is far from the only driverless game on the road, of course: Uber has been offering on-demand rides with self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh since last September. Late last year, the company expanded its experiment to San Francisco, but did so without getting the proper permission from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. After the DMV revoked Uber’s registrations for the self-driving cars, the vehicles were packed up and sent to Arizona.
The company then had to put tests in that state on hold briely last month after one of its vehicles was involved in a crash.
In February, the rivalry heated up when Google sued Waymo for allegedly stealing trade secrets about self-driving cars.