Waymo begins first public on-demand self-driving service test in Arizona

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Waymo has already been offering members of the public access to its self-driving fleet – for two months, during a limited trial in Phoenix, Arizona. The Alphabet-owned company quietly kicked off public availability of its Fiat-Chrysler Pacifica minivans and other autonomous vehicles, equipped with self-driving hardware and software, with a small group of testers who live in the Phoenix area, giving them an autonomous way to move around the city.

The Waymo trial is now expanding, with an open application available to members of the pubic living in Phoenix. Waymo is looking to expand the pool, and the application is open to anyone living in Phoenix. Waymo released a video featuring one of its first testing family, who sum up the surprise we likely mostly feel – Waymo’s self-driving service isn’t just ‘coming soon,’ it’s actually providing practical service for people right now.

Waymo’s short video also highlights another important aspect of this program – a focus on people and acclimatization to the tech, rather than on the tech and vehicles themselves. The family featured shares some of the reasons they like the service, and they’re incredibly mundane – for the father, Ted, it’s mainly about removing a big stressor in the form of the morning commute, and for the mother, Candace, it’s about making it possible to get the mostly teenage kids where they want to go without having to micromanage the vehicle schedule.

Waymo also announced that it’s going to be deploying 500 more Pacifica Hybrid vehicles in its self-driving fleet, adding to the existing 100 that it’s already been putting on real roads since the start of this year. That represents a lot of new miles to be driven cumulatively by Waymo, which already has nearly a decade of self-driving experience under its belt thanks to its beginnings as Google’s self-driving car project.

The big news, here, however, is that Waymo has essentially leapfrogged Uber in its self-driving testing; the technology was already much more reliable in practice (I’ve ridden in self-driving vehicles from both), but now Waymo is offering a service that is, as Waymo CEO John Krafcik describes it in a blog post, providing access to a fleet that’s on call “every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco.”

If you’re interested, Waymo is accepting applications here. Having driven around in one of their vehicles, I can safely say I’d be applying to join up myself if I was Phoenix-based.