Now known as Waymo, the Alphabet Inc. self-driving car unit is letting residents of Phoenix sign up to use its vehicles, a major step toward commercializing a technology that could one day upend transportation.
For the service, Waymo is adding 500 customized Chrysler Pacifica minivans to its fleet. Waymo has already tested these vehicles, plus other makes and models, on public roads, but only with its employees and contractors inside. By opening the doors to the general public with a larger fleet, the company will get data on how people experience and use self-driving cars — and clues on ways to generate revenue from the technology.
“We’re at the point when it’s really important to find how real people, outside the Google environment, will use this technology,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said. “Our goal is that they will use this for all their transportation needs.”
Waymo is letting people across parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area apply for the service as part of an “early rider program.” Initial users will be able to book Waymo’s minivans using an app, but won’t have to pay. Dollars will flow eventually, Krafcik said, yet he declined to share details. The company is signing up hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs.
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