Alphabet’s (GOOGL) (GOOG) self-driving car arm, Waymo, has informed its members who opted for the service that their next ride could be driverless. According to an October 9 TechCrunch report, Waymo emailed its members, noting, “Completely driverless Waymo cars are on the way.” This takes Waymo another step closer to the commercial launch of self-driving cars in the United States.
Waymo offers ride-hailing service to its members through its Waymo One app in the Phoenix metro area. Currently, the rides cover Arizona cities Chandler, Tempe, Mesa, and Gilbert. Notably, Waymo’s rides run in geofenced areas with a safety driver on board. However, Waymo has decided to go driverless.
Waymo’s email about a self-driving car without a driver
In the email, Waymo stated, “Over the years and with your support, we’ve been testing and refining our fully self-driving technology – including cars without a trained driver up front. We’re excited to share that soon you may experience one of these driverless rides!”
The email goes on explain how driverless car rides work. It noted that passengers will be informed about being matched to a driverless car. Passengers can learn more about the vehicle by pressing the “What to Expect” button. Plus, they can contact the rider support agent for assistance.
Waymo’s self-driving efforts
Waymo has been working fiercely on the development and use of self-driving cars. The company has invested heavily in autonomous technology research.
Waymo’s earlier efforts involved Firefly, which had integrated third-generation technology and used low speeds to transport passengers. Then it collaborated with Fiat (FCAU) to launch Chrysler Pacifica minivans in its self-driving fleet. The Pacifica would use fourth-generation technology.
Last year, Waymo partnered with Jaguar Land Rover to launch Jaguar I-Pace, using fifth-generation technology. Waymo was recently seen testing the I-Pace on public roads near its headquarters.
During IAA Frankfurt 2019 auto show, Waymo CEO John Krafcik described the company’s efforts. He said, “We’ve put the Waymo Driver through what must be the world’s longest and toughest ongoing driving test. We’ve driven autonomously more than 16 million kilometers on public roads, over 16 billion kilometers in simulation, and across more than 25 cities in the US. That’s equivalent to hundreds of years of human driving experience.”
The struggles continue
During this long journey, Waymo has invested billions of dollars in self-driving technology. However, the path to commercialization seems littered with difficulties. Citing slower progress in commercialization and consistent cost burdens, Morgan Stanley has recently cut Waymo’s valuation from $175 billion to $105 billion. To learn more, please read Waymo: Morgan Stanley Cut Its Valuation by 40%.
Peers in the autonomous vehicle industry
Waymo’s tech peer Apple (AAPL) is also quietly progressing on its self-driving car technology. Apple acquired Drive.ai to boost its self-driving car efforts. The company was recently seen testing its self-driving car in Cupertino.
Automakers Ford (F), Tesla (TSLA), and General Motors (GM) are also investing heavily in their self-driving technology. Ford plans to launch its self-driving cars in Austin by 2021. The company is working on a ride-sharing network through Ford Smart Mobility. It has also invested in self-driving tech development firm Argo AI.
Tesla (TSLA) expects to roll out its self-driving taxis by 2020, subject to regulatory approval. It plans to provide a battery that could last about 1 million miles. Plus, these cars would run at a lower cost than traditional ride-sharing vehicles.
GM Cruise has been testing its self-driving cars in San Francisco for more than three years. The company plans to log more miles before launching its ride-hailing service. GM previously expected to begin the service at the end of the year.
Tech providers NVIDIA (NVDA) and Qualcomm (QCOM) have also been competing in this space. While NVIDIA has partnered with Toyota, Ford is using Qualcomm’s chipset. To learn more, please read Hyundai-Aptiv Collab Heats Up Self-Driving Market.