It’s one short ride for a suburban Phoenix family, but a giant leap for driverless vehicles. Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, announced this week plans to let test riders use its vehicles for everyday trips such as commutes, errands, and dropping off the kids at school.
Already, the company is testing self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans in the Phoenix area without backup drivers in the front seat. Waymo employees ride in the back and can push a button to bring the car to a stop in case of an emergency. The company said it chose Phoenix for the tests because of the temperate weather and easy-to-navigate streets.
Waymo is accepting applications for its early rider program, which will give residents access to self-driving vehicles they can summon with an app, similar to calling for an Uber ride. The company appears to be leading the pack of automakers and tech leaders racing to develop driverless cars, but others likely won’t be far behind, said expert Sam Abuelsamid of Navigant Research.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich predicted driverless cars will be the norm in a few decades: “Given the pace at which autonomous driving is coming to life, I fully expect my children’s children will never have to drive a car.” —Lynde Langdon