Autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans developed by Alphabet's self-driving subsidiary Waymo will now be offering free rides to locals of Phoenix, Arizona, and the surrounding area, the company's Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik announced on Tuesday. This turn of events marks the first time that Waymo started serving the general public, while Krafcik refers to the initiative itself as an "early rider program" that's meant to help the company gather more data that will then be used as a basis for further improving its self-driving technology and services. The program will initially encompass 600 minivans, 500 of which were ordered particularly for the purposes of this test, while the initiative itself will likely be expanded in the future. Even though the Chrysler Pacifica minivans will technically be driving themselves, a human driver will always be present at the wheel ready to take control in case anything goes wrong, the Alphabet-owned firm said.
Anyone located in or around Phoenix who would like to try riding in one of Waymo's self-driving minivans can register their interest on the company's official website. The registration form requires users to share some basic data about their daily trips and general preferences regarding self-driving solutions. The Alphabet-owned company will then use that data to select testers it believes would fit its early access program, Krafcik revealed, adding that everyone who's selected to participate in the initiative will be notified about their opportunity in due time. The actual testing area that Waymo intends to start servicing in the coming weeks is about twice as large as San Francisco, the company said, suggesting that its first consumer-oriented self-driving test will be more ambitious than that of Uber.
Waymo has been developing autonomous vehicles for close to a decade now, so the announcement of the company's services being offered to the public marks a major step in its endeavors to revolutionize transportation. This latest turn of events comes shortly after the company filed a lawsuit against Uber — possibly its largest competitor in the self-driving industry — alleging that the San Francisco-based tech giant stole some of its trade secrets and used them to improve its own autonomous vehicles.