The day has come for the ride-hailing service without human drivers to be approved and hit the streets of America. Waymo, a unit of Google parent Alphabet, got a permit in late January from the Arizona Department of Transportation to operate as a "transportation network company", according to Ryan Harding, a spokesman at the state agency.
This allows Waymo's fleet of driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans pickup and drops off paying riders in Arizona through a smartphone app or via their website, added Harding. Uber Technologies and Lyft are good examples of transportation network companies in the state, said the spokesman.
Waymo is a pioneer in autonomous vehicles, however, rivals including Uber and General Motors' Cruise division are racing to catch up. The technology is still being tested in many regions, but it could transform the way people move around in the near future.
"As we continue to test-drive our fleet of vehicles in greater Phoenix, we’re taking all the steps necessary to launch our commercial service this year," a Waymo spokesman told an online source.
Waymo is planning on launching their service in Phoenix this year, it will be limited by the number of vehicles Waymo has at the moment. Although a network of driverless cars will be able to reach more people than a similar number of personally owned vehicles that just idle for most of the day. Waymo has not yet commented on how much they will charge riders, but without human drivers, the cost could be competitive with Uber and Lyft's human-powered networks.
Waymo has started a free "early rider programme" in the Arizona capital, where hundreds of people use a Waymo app to hail and use cars within a 100-square-mile radius. Waymo also agreed to buy "thousands" more Pacifica minivans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles equipped for autonomous driving.
Waymo has other plans beyond ride-hailing, including personal-use vehicles, logistics, deliveries and “working with cities to help them address public transportation objectives”, Alphabet chief financial officer Ruth Porat said during a recent conference call with analysts.