- Waymo, the self-driving car arm of Google parent company Alphabet, will launch its taxi service in the next two months, CEO John Krafcik confirmed at a Wall Street Journal event Tuesday. The service will initially be available to a limited number of riders in the Phoenix area, with plans to expand to a broader customer base, including businesses.
- Bloomberg reported that the service would have a relatively low-key launch in early December under a new, undisclosed name.
- Krafcik said there has been interest from businesses including Walmart, Avis and AutoNation to use the service to bring customers to their stores. "This is a whole other channel of demand that we really hadn't thought deeply about that could end up being a really significant driver of business," he said.
Waymo has been testing self-driving vans in the Phoenix area since last year to test the viability of its technology and a potential taxi service. It is expected the initial launch could draw from Waymo’s Early Rider Program, a group of a few hundred volunteers that have already ridden in the self-driving cars. Bloomberg reports those who elect to try the new service would be freed from their non-disclosure agreements to draw more publicity.
With support from the Arizona state government, Waymo had made clear its plans to debut a taxi service this year, but a report from The Information in September said technical problems had slowed the launch. Clearly the company has moved past those problems, and Waymo told Bloomberg there is "safety at the core of everything we do."
The taxi systems are seen as a way to get riders in cars without the pressure of putting them behind the wheel, and can be slowly distributed to other cities. Waymo's debut would position it as a leader in the autonomous vehicle industry, ahead of competitors that are also looking at commercial applications for autonomous cars. General Motors has said it would launch a ride-hailing service in 2019, and Daimler announced this week that it would run a pilot program in San Jose in the second half of 2019. Tesla and Volkswagen have also said they’ll run their own ride-hailing networks.
Details are still sparse on how the Waymo project would run. Bloomberg reports pricing is still being worked out but that rides would be comparable to Uber and Lyft, eliminating another potential barrier to adoption.