Alphabet subsidiary Waymo, which effectively the autonomous vehicle research and development arm of Google recently released a Chrysler Pacifica minivan that successfully navigated around the decommissioned Castle Air Force Base, their testing facility in Merced County on Monday 30th of October 2017.
As part of Alphabets war with Uber, they have now released their prototype to full usage to Arizona citizens. These minivans will steer without a driver and as such put Alphabet one step closer to beating Uber. Uber has pilots in Pittsburgh and Tempe, AZ but they make sure there is a person sitting in the driver's seat until the cars are 100% driverless proof.
Waymo stated that a subset of their fleet will start to work in the Phoenix metro region and will be totally driverless, as the pilot progresses the region will grow, and their aim is to reach a scope that will be greater than the size of Greater London.
The company stated that it would make their cars ready and available to drive passengers to work, kids to school and evening drives into town. It is still uncertain how many of these cars will make up their fleet or if passengers will have to pay at first.
The Waymo vans come with screens in the backseat that show the passengers drive details including the speed as well as direction and also notifications about stops and reasons for slowing down and stopping, such as "yielding to pedestrians." The car will notify its passengers when they have reached their destination by stating that "we are here."
This recent move has signaled Uber that the war is on, Waymo will try to beat Uber and bring on a driverless car before them. Gathering up more experience and software upgrades and tweaks to make the driverless car a fully incorporated feature on the national logistics grid.
Waymo stated that one day these cars would be sold to individuals, but at first, it was important to introduce them gradually. First by making them available to rideshare and cab companies, after which, gradually phase them into mainstream usage.
Uber has a pilot running in Pittsburgh, but the main difference is that Uber has a driver behind the wheels while the car drives itself. This pilot has been going on since September 2016. Uber tried to set up a similar pilot in San Francisco but met with strict opposition with the State DMV so had to cancel the pilot.
Waymo stated that their driverless vans will include an employee at first, sitting in the back to make sure there will be no issues and that the employee will take control if there are problems, forcing the car to pull over. This seems like a psychological war of where the driver will sit while the car drives. If Uber has a driver and Waymo has a passenger, then what's the difference. In fact, as a passenger, I would prefer to sit in the back without a stranger and have him sit in the front to be sure he can grab the wheel in case of an emergency. In this instance, Uber wins over Waymo.
The citizens of Pheonix will be the first to test out these driverless cars, and after the pilot is successful, then Waymo will start to expand its scope, hoping for city and state cooperation. Uber tried to expand into SF but failed, so it's only a matter of time till they manage to expand as well.
Waymo emerged from Google's investment into driverless cars back in 2009. Up till now, the Waymo cars have covered over 3.5 million miles in 20 states across the US and all on public roads. The reason the pilot is taking place in Arizona is due to weather conditions, so far, the technology has faced issues with rain, snow, fog, etc. Adverse weather has yet to be successfully factored into the decision-making hardware and software processors.