Fully Driverless Cars are Closer Than You Think

Google Planning a Self-Driving Taxi Service in the Coming Months.

While some their competitors are aiming to roll out fully driverless car services by 2020 or 2021, Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, is preparing to launch “a commercial ride-sharing service powered by self-driving vehicles with no human ‘safety’ drivers as soon as this fall.”

Waymo, Google's Self-Driving Taxi Service


According to Ars Technica

Waymo plans to launch first in the Phoenix suburbs

Efrati reports that Waymo CEO John Krafcik faces pressure from his boss, Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Larry Page, to transform Waymo’s impressive self-driving technology into a shipping product. Page had been pushing for a launch by the end of 2016. But a major deal with Ford to produce the necessary vehicles fell through, forcing Waymo to scramble and sign a smaller deal with Fiat Chrysler to supply minivans.

According to Efrati, Waymo’s service is likely to launch first in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb where Waymo has done extensive testing. Waymo chose the Phoenix area for its favorable weather, its wide, well-maintained streets, and the relative lack of pedestrians. Another important factor was the legal climate. Arizona has some of the nation’s most permissive laws regarding self-driving vehicles.

According to the Arizona Republic, a 2015 executive order from Gov. Doug Ducey “allows universities to test vehicles with no driver on board so long as a licensed driver has responsibility for the cars and can take control remotely if the vehicle needs assistance.”

Waymo is getting ready to take the same approach. The company has built a real-time command center that allows self-driving cars to “phone home” and consult human operators about the best way to deal with situations it finds confusing. The ability to remotely monitor vehicles and give timely feedback on tricky situations will be essential if Waymo hopes to eliminate the human driver from its cars.

Although there are still a few kinks to work out (such as the vehicles occasionally having difficulty making left-hand turns when there was no traffic control devices governing oncoming traffic, and a recall on a small electrical part of the Chrysler Pacifica vans in Waymo’s fleet), the company seems poised to be operational by 2018 if not before the end of the year.

Welcome to the future, friends.