In brief: The self-driving car industry is advancing rapidly, but Waymo could finally be on the verge of significant progress. According to reports, the company is launching its paid, autonomous ride-hailing service in Phoenix next month. Though it will only be available to a small group of "authorized" riders initially, all NDAs will be lifted, meaning we could see our first glimpses of the tech in action soon.
Self-driving cars are one of the primary examples of tech previously thought to be impossible finally becoming a reality. Despite a few roadblocks along the way, autonomous cars are growing increasingly popular, and the public seems to have accepted them as the future of transit.
This widespread public acceptance is due in no small part to the efforts of companies like Waymo, Google's self-driving car division. The company's tech has advanced far enough that it began to test out an autonomous Uber-like ride-sharing app, as part of its invite-only "Early Rider" program. It seems the program has been a success because Bloomberg now reports that Waymo is planning to launch its paid driverless taxi service as early as next month.
Much like Uber or Lyft rides, Waymo riders will likely hail a vehicle through an app, choose where they want to go, pay, and wait for the car to arrive.
Interestingly, the service will not operate under the Waymo name. Instead, it will have entirely new branding, according to Bloomberg's sources (who remained anonymous due to the secrecy of the plans).
The outlet adds that, though this is technically going to be an "official" launch, Waymo will not be planning any big announcements or "splashy" media events. Instead, it sounds like a relatively small group of Phoenix-based "authorized riders" will be given access to the service at first.
However, unlike Waymo's previous Early Rider program, there won't be an NDA in place, so users will be free to publicly discuss their praise, criticisms, or fears regarding the technology without legal repercussions.
If you're excited about the self-driving car revolution, this is certainly good news, but it's important to keep your expectations in check. Even if Bloomberg's report is accurate, we have no way of knowing when this ride-sharing program will launch for the rest of Arizona; much less the rest of the US.
There are numerous state-specific legal hoops for Waymo to jump through, so we're most likely looking at a multi-year nationwide roll-out for the Lyft-like service.