Waymo’s commercial driverless car service is set to launch in early December, according to someone familiar with the company’s plans (via Bloomberg). The service won’t be branded as a “Waymo” platform, however, and will receive a new name and compete directly with car-hailing apps Uber and Lyft.
The launch will be small, with only a couple hundred authorized riders in the suburbs around Phoenix, Arizona and covering about 100 square miles. This is the same tactic that Waymo has used in previous tests, and reports about the upcoming autonomous ride-hailing service being tested in Arizona began appearing one year ago.
It’s believed that the first group of customers for the service will be taken from Waymo’s Early Rider Program, which is made up of 400 volunteer families who have been using Waymo since the spring of 2017. The families who signed up for that program would be released from their non-disclosure agreements under the new driverless service, and encouraged to share their experiences on social media or even take friends for rides.
The service won’t be completely driverless out of the gate, it seems. According to those familiar with the plans, there will be backup drivers in some cars “to help ease customers into the service,” and to take over driving if necessary. Based on Waymo’s accumulated data, the modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans will still drive themselves more than 99.9 percent of the time.
Over time, Waymo wants to plant the seeds of the driverless car service in different cities across the United States, but it will take some time because the company hopes to avoid bad customer experiences and avoidable crashes that could set it back by years. As for pricing, nothing is certain yet, but Waymo is planning to offer fares that are competitive with Uber and Lyft.