There is intense competition to be the first company to market with a fully autonomous, driverless ride-sharing service, and if the news that The Information recently dropped is accurate, then Google/Alphabet-owned Waymo will be offering one imminently.
According to anonymous sources, the self-driving car unit is planning to launch a fully driverless fleet of cars before the end of the year. Initially the service is tipped as launching in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix that has already been the site of extensive testing by Waymo. There a number of factors that favor Chandler — the good weather (although Waymo recently showed that extreme heat is no challenge), relatively few pedestrians, wide streets — but most pertinent detail is that Arizona has some of the most permissive laws regarding self-driving vehicles in the whole of the US. In the state you’re able test vehicles without a driver on board, as long as it’s possible for a licensed driver to take control of the vehicles remotely if necessary, and for them to bear responsibility for the vehicles.
Given that there are less than three months left of the year, it’s fair to say that a 2017 launch is pretty ambitious. However, even if it takes until 2018, Waymo will still have the jump on rival services such as Lyft. It’s not just the time that is running against Waymo, the anonymous sources have also said that the vehicles are experiencing problems. In certain situations there have been delays between between the car’s requests for help and the responses from the humans in the command center. There have also been reports that the cars repeatedly struggle with navigating left turns.
If this news really does come to pass it might be a bit of a shock to those people who remain steadfastly skeptical about self-driving cars, and it’ll signal a big step towards a driverless future.