Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving-car subsidiary is close to launching the first fully-autonomous commercial taxi service in the United States, with a ride-hailing program set to kick off in Phoenix, Arizona later this year using a fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans. The company already used the Phoenix metropolitan area as a test bed for an “Early Rider Program” starting last April, and now, it has the necessary legal approval to try out a commercial service.
Eager to ride in one of Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid cabs yourself, but you don’t live anywhere near the Phoenix area? No sweat; Waymo has published a 360-degree video on YouTube to provide an interactive, virtual ride-along in one of its autonomous Pacificas.
Much like the self-driving test vehicles of rivals Ford and General Motors, Waymo’s autonomous cabs use a combination of cameras, Radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging), and Lidar (LIght Detection And Ranging) to “see” the world around them, with some redundancy for reliability and safety. Highly-detailed digital maps stored onboard allow the cars to pick out precisely where they are within the pre-mapped area, and a complex, artifically-intelligent software system does the rest.
Waymo’s forthcoming commercial autonomous ride-hailing service is a good thing for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, allowing the automaker to have a stake in the self-driving-car race with little to no direct investment. Earlier this year, Waymo announced a deal it had made to purchase “thousands” of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans for self-driving conversion.