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2018 has been a banner year for the autonomous-vehicle industry, and especially so for Google’s Waymo, which became the first driverless-car company to offer a ride service in December.
Waymo One, the driverless-car service owned by Alphabet, Google’s umbrella company, started operating on Dec. 5, in Phoenix, Arizona. The program works similar to Uber Lyft, with users calling for a vehicle through an app. The service is currently available to about 400 people, who have been participants in Waymo’s early rider program since April of 2017.
In late October, Waymo also became the first company to receive a permit to operate driverless cars on public roads in California. The company plans to operate the vehicles in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Palo Alto, near its headquarters. The permit includes day and night testing on city streets, rural roads and highways in speeds up to 65 mph.
“Our vehicles can safely handle fog and light rain, and testing in those conditions is included in our permit,” the company says. “We will gradually begin driverless testing on city streets in a limited territory and, over time, expand the area that we drive in as we gain confidence and experience to expand.”
While Waymo plans to eventually offer a driverless taxi service to the public in California, initially the driver-free passengers will be limited to employees only.
California began accepting applications for fully driverless testing permits in April after a rule change opened the door for companies wishing to test their autonomous vehicles on public roads
“In the absence of firm federal rules governing the testing of self-driving cars, California’s DMV is widely regarded as the most advanced and involved regulator of this space,” Wired magazine notes. “It has granted 60 companies, including Waymo, the more basic version of its AV learner’s permit, which allows testing on public roads with a human behind the wheel.”
Alexis Madrigal, a staff writer for The Atlantic, rode in the Waymo self-driving minivan in Phoenix and describes them as ‘humanlike, but not quite alive.’
“For now self-driving cars are in a strange moment between impossible dream and everyday conveyance. For people who’ve been watching their evolution, it has become a foregone conclusion that cars will become more autonomous, and the real debate is how quickly, and how much, they’ll disrupt existing transportation modes. And that’s why Waymo One is so highly anticipated,” Madrigal writes.
Wired magazine echoes a similar sentiment: “Waymo believes it’s ready to deliver the driverless future it has long promised. The California DMV, at least, seems ready to watch it roll in.”
The rest of the autonomous-vehicle industry, as well as insurers, will be watching, too.