Google’s Waymo rolls out ‘early rider’ test of self-driving cars

Self-driving pioneer Google wants you to be a pioneer, too — of riding in its driverless cars.

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving division, is asking residents of the Phoenix area to apply to participate in its early-rider program. The program will let early riders and their families ride in Waymo’s driverless vehicles for free.

The program finally lets real people test Google’s technology, which it has been working on since 2009.

“Over the course of this trial, we’ll be accepting hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs who want to ride in and give feedback about Waymo’s self-driving cars,” said John Crafcik, CEO of Waymo, in a blog post Monday. “Rather than offering people one or two rides, the goal of this program is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco.”

The program is open to residents in the Phoenix metropolitan area, including Chandler, Tempe, Mesa and Gilbert.

The riders will have access to Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans and Lexus RX450h hybrid crossovers, according to the program’s website.

Uber — which Google was an early investor in but has become its bitter rival in driverless tech — beat Google to bringing self-driving tests to the public. Uber began a public test in Pittsburgh last year. Uber is also testing a service in Tempe, where one of its vehicles was involved in a rollover crash last month.

Crafcik told Bloomberg the early riders in the Arizona program will ride in the passenger’s seat, while contract or employee testers will sit in the driver’s seat of the self-driving cars, although the eventual goal is to not have them there.

Crafcik said Waymo is also adding 500 Chrysler minivans to its fleet because it wants “to bring self-driving cars to more communities sooner.”

 

Photo: John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, the autonomous vehicle company created by Google parent company Alphabet, introduces a Chrysler Pacifica hybrid outfitted with Waymo’s suite of sensors and radar at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 8, 2017. (Paul Sancya/AP)

 

 

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