Skip to main content

Waymo will allow more people to ride in its fully driverless vehicles in Phoenix

Waymo will allow more people to ride in its fully driverless vehicles in Phoenix


The company aims to have ‘100 percent’ of its trips take place in driverless vehicles

Share this story

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet, announced it will be opening up its fully driverless vehicles to all customers of its ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona. Previously, the company only allowed a select few people. Now, over a thousand people will get to ride in a Waymo vehicle without a human safety driver in the front seat.

Waymo has been testing its vehicles in the Phoenix area since early 2017. Its self-driving cars operate in an approximately 100-square-mile service area that includes the towns Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, and Tempe — though its fully driverless cars are restricted to an area that is half that size. In late 2018, the company launched a limited public ride-hailing service called Waymo One, but the only customers to get access were people who had first been vetted through Waymo’s early rider program of beta testers. Waymo said it has around 1,500 monthly active users from both programs, the same number it reported in December 2019.

Previously, only members of Waymo’s early rider program were allowed to ride in the company’s driverless vehicles. Those people sign nondisclosure agreements with the company in order to gain access to early versions of Waymo’s technology. This bars them from speaking publicly when, say, one of their trips goes off course. Waymo won’t say how many people or how many trips its fully driverless vehicles have made so far.

To start out, the company plans to offer fully driverless trips to Waymo One customers only — though those people can bring friends and family along for the ride, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a blog post. Over the next several weeks, more people will be invited to sign up for Waymo One. (The company has a waitlist from which it selects participants.)

The vehicles will also be cleaned more frequently due to the COVID-19 pandemic

The company also plans to add in-vehicle barriers between the front row of seats and the rear passenger cabin. Then it will be “re-introducing rides with a trained vehicle operator, which will add capacity and allow us to serve a larger geographical area,” he said. The vehicles will also be cleaned more frequently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company’s health and safety guidelines are outlined here. (Some of the company’s in-vehicle safety operators in California have complained the measures are inadequate.)

“In the near term, 100% of our rides will be fully driverless,” Krafcik said, but he didn’t provide an exact timeline. “We expect our new fully driverless service to be very popular, and we’re thankful to our riders for their patience as we ramp up availability to serve demand.”

These driverless vehicles aren’t totally alone in the wilderness. Waymo has a team of remote employees who watch the real-time feeds of each vehicle’s eight cameras and can help, with the push of a button, if the software runs into a difficult spot and needs a human eye to figure out what’s going on. But Waymo insists these remote operators won’t be “joy-sticking” the cars, which are outfitted with a bevy of cameras and sensors that help it “see” its surroundings. The car will be making most of the driving decisions itself thanks to its large computer system and artificial intelligence software.

The Verge got to ride in one of Waymo’s driverless vehicles late last year, and despite a few wrong turns, we found the experience equal parts boring and mind-blowing.

This isn’t the first time Waymo has unveiled fully driverless cars to much fanfare

This isn’t the first time Waymo has unveiled fully driverless cars to much fanfare. On November 7th, 2017, Krafcik took the stage at a tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal, and said, “Fully self-driving cars are here.” He showed a video of the company’s driverless vehicles picking up and dropping off passengers in Chandler. And he promised that “within the next few months,” more people would get the chance to ride in Waymo’s most advanced vehicles.

But that didn’t really happen. The company tried again in May 2018, releasing another video  that was pretty similar to the first: passengers giggling nervously at the sight of an empty driver’s seat, wondering aloud whether passersby are also slightly freaked out, and making casual references to “the future.” One man gets so bored that he falls asleep.

Those trips occurred in a small, largely residential portion of its service area, and they were never a majority of the rides provided by Waymo. Meanwhile, reports begin to circulate about problems with Waymo’s driving. The company’s most advanced vehicles were still occasionally confounded by certain traffic situations, which suggests the tech — while incredibly advanced — was not quite ready for the public rollout Waymo was predicting. By mid-2018, the company began putting trained safety drivers back in the driverless vehicles, according to The Information. And the company stopped talking publicly about its driverless trips.

But with those vehicles now finally available to a broader population of people, expect the company to speak more openly about its plan to make them 100 percent of its fleet.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 13 minutes ago Not just you

Emma Roth13 minutes ago
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to see if he manages to pull this move off.

External Link
Emma RothTwo hours ago
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.

External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.