Waymo is allowing the general public to hitch a ride in its driverless autonomous vehicles in Phoenix, expanding a service it had been quietly offering to a select group of riders for the past year. The vehicles, which will have no back-up drivers behind the wheel to take over in sticky situations, will serve an area of 50 square miles, the AP reports. There won't be anyone watching remotely who can take over in an emergency and drive the car. Before the pandemic reduced demand for rides, Waymo was providing 1,000 to 2,000 rides in autonomous vehicles per week. Most of the rides had a backup driver behind the wheel, but 5% to 10% of the rides were without a human backup driver and were available only to a smaller group of riders who signed non-disclosure agreements.
For the next several weeks, every Waymo ride in the Phoenix area will be without a backup driver. After that, Waymo will re-introduce human backup drivers behind the wheel in some of the vehicles so the company can work on expanding its service area. Rides with human backup drivers cost the same amount as those without. To help encourage safety during the pandemic, Waymo provides wipes and sanitizing gel in the car and asks riders to confirm in a checklist that they haven’t been exposed to the coronavirus. Waymo, a unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., is hoping to eventually expand the service into California, but does not yet have concrete expansion plans to announce, CEO John Krafcik told reporters Thursday.