The future is here: Waymo One, a self-driving taxi service by Alphabet’s self-driving company Waymo, has officially launched. Unfortunately, to paraphrase sci-fi prophet William Gibson, this future is very unevenly distributed. The service will first be available to “early riders” — people who’ve already used Waymo technology — and only in Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert, which are all cities near Phoenix, Arizona.
And the cars will actually have a human in the driver’s seat — Waymo-trained drivers who will supervise the cars, at least at first.
Waymo has been testing the self-driving taxi service since April 2017, with some 400 riders on board as beta users as of June this year. With that regard, not much has really changed with the launch, other than Waymo giving the service Waymo One branding and calling it a commercial service instead of a beta test (as The Verge points out, one big difference is that early riders will have to pay for their rides moving forward).
Users will be able to hail Waymo One cars through an app, which (unsurprisingly) looks a bit like Uber. You start by confirming your pickup location, choosing a destination, and requesting a ride. The app will show riders fare estimates before they accept the trip, and connect them to a rider support service if need be.
“Self-driving technology is new to many, so we’re proceeding carefully with the comfort and convenience of our riders in mind,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik wrote in a blog post Wednesday.
Krafcik said that Waymo’s early rider program will continue for a “select group,” which will “help test early features before those new capabilities graduate to Waymo One.” There’s no word on when the service will be available more broadly or when truly driverless rides will come. Littered with phrases like “gradually,” “at first,” and “long journey ahead,” Krafcik’s post merely establishes that Waymo is planning for it to happen at some indefinite point in the future.