Nearly a decade after Google launched its self-driving car project, the company's efforts to commercialize autonomous technology is finally coming to fruition.
Waymo, the subsidiary spun from Google to handle autonomous driving, on Wednesday began offering commercial service with its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivans. The service is called Waymo One.
Approximately 400 riders who participated in the company's pilot program in the greater Phoenix area have first crack at using the minivans. The vehicles can be hailed via an app 24 hours a day and be used to travel around Phoenix and four of its suburbs.
"We're taking the next step in our journey with the introduction of our commercial self-driving service," John Krafcik, Waymo's CEO, wrote in a blog post introducing the start of service. "Self-driving technology is new to many, so we're proceeding carefully with the comfort and convenience of our riders in mind."
Human safety drivers will remain in the vehicles for the time being, the company says. It's unclear when their role will no longer be needed.
Other questions remain regarding launch of Waymo's commercial service. Though there are 600 Chrysler Pacificas in the company's nationwide fleet, Waymo declined to say exactly how many will be used in the initial phase of commercial service in Phoenix.
The company said it is keeping the launch group intentionally small, because it does not know how much demand will be for the robotaxis. Waymo did not offer much in terms of detail on how much the service will cost. Riders will see price estimates before they accept a trip, based on factors including time and distance to destination. The minivans can carry up to three adults and one child at a time.
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