What you need to know
- Fully driverless taxis from Waymo are now driving in Phoenix, Arizona.
- Only a special group of 400 participants has access to these, for now.
- These driverless minivans could be coming to other cities in the near future, such as Los Angeles.
Waymo has been publicly testing its self-driving cars since the company spun off from the experimental wing of Alphabet, Google's parent company. Late last year, Waymo launched its first driverless ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona, but played it safe by keeping a human driver behind the wheel at all times. While this human wasn't actively driving, they were in the wings in case something happened.
Now the robots are fully taking over, and Waymo has been successfully testing long enough to provide passengers with a new option: a fully driverless minivan. An elite group of 400 participants in a special Waymo program have been sent an email, found on Reddit and confirmed as official to The Verge by a spokesperson, saying that a new driverless option will be available in the Waymo app.
For those that have used ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft before, Waymo's process is familiar and just as easy. The difference here is that passengers will have the entire Waymo minivan all to themselves for the duration of their trip without a human being sitting in the front seat. But don't worry, Waymo agents will be able to remotely control the car in case of emergency, and a shiny button is present to immediately connect you to a skilled agent.
Sitting in one of these driverless minivans is actually really cool, despite the feelings a minivan might invoke in some people's minds. On the back of the front headrests, you'll find some nifty monitors showing you exactly how the car is navigating, down to the angle of the curve that's being taken. It's a surreal experience the company is hoping to take elsewhere as it tests the waters in Los Angeles and, ultimately, hopes to turn it into a profitable venture for parent company Alphabet.