Wednesday, 12 December 2018 01:49 GMT
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RIDING IN WAYMO ONE, THE GOOGLE SPINOFF'S FIRST SELF-DRIVING TAXI SERVICE. Going on a coffee run with Waymo One



(MENAFN - iCrowdNewsWire) iCrowdNewswire - Dec 5, 2018 It is late afternoon in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, and I'm getting jittery waiting for my self-driving car to make a left turn before arriving at the coffee shop. Seconds tick by, and the vehicle — an autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivan owned by Waymo — is letting too many opportunities pass by without turning. But before I can get truly annoyed, the Waymo vehicle makes the left, and my mid-afternoon caffeine fix is soon satiated. Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Alphabet, launched its first commercial autonomous ride-hailing service here in the Phoenix suburbs on Wednesday — a momentous moment for the former Google self-driving project that has been working on the technology for almost a decade . I was one of the lucky few to test out the company's robot taxi experience a week before the launch. And I say 'lucky because to ride in one of Waymo's autonomous minivans, not only do you have to live in one of four suburbs around Phoenix, but you also have to be in a very exclusive, 400-person club called the Early Riders.

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Congress is on the cusp of passing a bill that could authorize hundreds of thousands of self-driving cars without traditional controls like steering wheels and pedals to be deployed as taxis or sold as personal vehicles. This could benefit Waymo's plans to expand its territory across the US, but it would also give a similar advantage to its competitors like Uber, GM's Cruise, and Ford.

WAYMO WILL NEED TO MOVE FAST — BUT NOT TOO FAST So Waymo will need to move fast — but not too fast. One of its biggest self-driving competitors, Uber, killed a 49-year-old pedestrian who was crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona, in March 2018. That self-driving car's automatic emergency brakes were disabled; police later said the safety driver at the wheel was streamingThe Voiceon her phone at the time of the crash. Uber has since shut down its autonomous vehicle testing program in Arizona, laid off a majority of its testers, and is now engaged in delicate negotiations with Pennsylvania officials to restart its public testing.

Ride-hailing companies have earned ill-will in other ways, too. After marketing campaigns that suggested Uber and Lyft woulddecreasecar use, recent studies have found they poach riders from public transportation. That means ride-sharing is actuallyincreasingtraffic congestion.

Congestion is certainly a major problem for many US cities, including Phoenix. It's the 25th most congested city in the US, according to INRIX. But the real danger is for the people walking around those cars. Arizona has the highest pedestrian death rate in the nation. Between 2014 and 2017, fatal collisions killed 271 pedestrians in Phoenix. Almost three dozen people have been killed while walking in 2018 so far. Sean Sweat, executive director of advocacy group the Urban Phoenix Project, said some local elected officials use self-driving cars as an excuse to oppose common-sense street improvements.

'They say that we don't need transit because once driverless cars are here, everyone will just be in a driverless car, Sweat told me as we stood in one of downtown Phoenix's beautiful sculpture-strewn plazas. 'I don't understand how they don't understand that just because a car doesn't have a driver doesn't mean that you suddenly have all this extra capacity because a car is still a car. The geometry doesn't change.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik has said 'safety is urgent, and that the company's motivation is to eliminate the 1.2 million people killed on the road globally each year. Chu adds, 'We want to be a part of that solution as soon as we possibly can. But on the other hand, we also know that for such a new technology rolling it out incrementally, being very methodical and careful about it is the job at hand.

Back in Chandler, I step out of Waymo's minivan for the last time and watch as it slowly drives away into the gathering dusk. There will soon be thousands more of these vehicles on the road, not just here in Arizona, but also California, Michigan, Georgia, Washington, and Texas — all states where Waymo has been testing its self-driving cars.

They're coming. There's no going back now.

Contact Information:

Andrew J. Hawkins

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RIDING IN WAYMO ONE, THE GOOGLE SPINOFF'S FIRST SELF-DRIVING TAXI SERVICE. Going on a coffee run with Waymo One

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