Watch As Completely Autonomous Waymo Cars Drive Through Arizona Streets

alphabet waymo automonous vehicle

Self-driving vehicles are still a bit of a novelty still, but several companies are beginning to escalate their offerings. Waymo, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of Google's parent company Alphabet, has begun to offer rides in Arizona. The rides are part of an early access program.

Author and columnist Ed Niedermeyer hitched a ride with a Waymo self-driving vehicle in Chandler, Arizona. Niedermeyer requested the vehicle through the Waymo app and was greeted by a driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivan. A message in his Waymo app read, “This ride will be different. With no one else in the car, Waymo will do all the driving. Enjoy this free ride on us!”

Waymo boasts a fleet of over 600 autonomous vehicles, but it is a bit unclear how many are being tested in Chandler, Mesa, and Tempe, Arizona. Fully driverless rides are currently in early access and the rides are controlled in a “geofenced environment”. Riders are selected based off of their zip code and they cannot specifically request a driverless vehicles. Riders must also sign an NDA before they are able to start their ride.

The Waymo rides are not completely devoid of human contact. Niedermeyer noted that after he had fastened his seatbelt, the vehicle automatically called a Waymo representative. He was then able to ask the representative any questions he may have had about his driverless ride.

The free driverless Waymo rides are very limited. Waymo’s Director of Product Saswat Panigrahi remarked that Waymo vehicles have clocked in 100 million real miles and 100 billion simulated miles. However, the program is still very much in an early access phase, sort of like a public beta. Waymo is currently testing self-driving vehicles in Phoenix, but the completely driverless rides are only being tested in the Phoenix suburbs. Waymo also will not allow any of their vehicles to make a trip to the hectic Phoenix Sky International Airport.

Waymo has been working hard to improve the safety of their autonomous vehicles. This past summer the company decided to share their self-driving data with researchers. A representative remarked that they hoped researchers would be able to help, “...make self-driving vehicles more capable, but also impact other related fields and applications, such as computer vision and robotics.” Waymo is also working with Alphabet subsidiary DeepMind to train artificial intelligence for autonomous vehicles. They are optimistic that they will be able to train the AI to handle different situations while maintaining safety.