Waymo Set to Debut Autonomous Ride-Hailing Service to Select Arizona Users in December

Waymo's commercial driverless car service is set to launch in early December, according to someone familiar with the company's plans (via Bloomberg). The service won't be branded as a "Waymo" platform, however, and will receive a new name and compete directly with car-hailing apps Uber and Lyft.

The launch will be small, with only a couple hundred authorized riders in the suburbs around Phoenix, Arizona and covering about 100 square miles. This is the same tactic that Waymo has used in previous tests, and reports about the upcoming autonomous ride-hailing service being tested in Arizona began appearing one year ago.

It's believed that the first group of customers for the service will be taken from Waymo's Early Rider Program, which is made up of 400 volunteer families who have been using Waymo since the spring of 2017. The families who signed up for that program would be released from their non-disclosure agreements under the new driverless service, and encouraged to share their experiences on social media or even take friends for rides.

The service won't be completely driverless out of the gate, it seems. According to those familiar with the plans, there will be backup drivers in some cars "to help ease customers into the service," and to take over driving if necessary. Based on Waymo's accumulated data, the modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans will still drive themselves more than 99.9 percent of the time.

Over time, Waymo wants to plant the seeds of the driverless car service in different cities across the United States, but it will take some time because the company hopes to avoid bad customer experiences and avoidable crashes that could set it back by years. As for pricing, nothing is certain yet, but Waymo is planning to offer fares that are competitive with Uber and Lyft.

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Uber and Waymo Agree to Settle Case Involving Uber’s Alleged Theft of Self-Driving Technology

Over the past five days, Uber and Waymo have been entangled in a court case over Waymo's allegations that Uber stole its self-driving LiDAR system. Today, the two companies have announced that they reached a settlement agreement, under which Uber will pay Waymo a 0.34 equity stake, "amounting to about $245 million at Uber's recent $72 billion valuation" (via CNBC).

Additionally, Uber has agreed that it will not incorporate Waymo's self-driving technology into any of its own hardware or software. Alongside the settlement, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a letter that the company "does not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber," nor that Waymo's tech was used by Uber in any way, but expressed regret for the ongoing trial over the past year and the events that led up to it.

To be clear, while we do not believe that any trade secrets made their way from Waymo to Uber, nor do we believe that Uber has used any of Waymo’s proprietary information in its self-driving technology, we are taking steps with Waymo to ensure our Lidar and software represents just our good work.

While I cannot erase the past, I can commit, on behalf of every Uber employee, that we will learn from it, and it will inform our actions going forward. I’ve told Alphabet that the incredible people at Uber ATG are focused on ensuring that our development represents the very best of Uber’s innovation and experience in self-driving technology.
Waymo's lawsuit concerned Uber and its acquisition of self-driving trucking startup Otto, with Waymo believing that employees at Otto stole information from Alphabet-owned Waymo and shared it with Uber. Despite Khosrowshahi's belief that no such data was seen or used by Uber, the company appears ready to put the legal battle behind it through the settlement and payment to Waymo.

As the fight between the two companies stretched throughout last year, Waymo began a self-driving car test in Phoenix, Arizona, which eventually expanded to testing an autonomous ride-hailing service with no safety drivers. With its fleet of more than 600 minivans, Waymo is considered one of the leaders in the field of self-driving technology, which Apple is now attempting to catch up with through "accelerating" its self-driving efforts in California.

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Waymo Begins Testing Autonomous Ride-Hailing Service With No Safety Drivers Behind the Wheel

Last month, self-driving company Waymo began operating autonomous minivans on public roads in Arizona, in tests that were conducted without a safety driver "or any human at all" behind the steering wheel. Today, the Google-owned company announced it's now beginning the first steps toward launching a ride-hailing service backed by a fleet of completely self-driving vehicles (via The Verge).

To start, Waymo will begin testing the autonomous driving service with its employees in Chandler, Arizona, then expand to members of Waymo's Early Rider program before finally seeing a public launch in the town sometime in the next few months. Users will hail the vans through the Waymo app and when they arrive there won't be any safety drivers or other humans in the driver's seat, but a Waymo employee will still sit in the backseat.

The test vans will be able to travel anywhere within a geofenced 100-square-mile radius of Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. While there are understandable caveats to Waymo's ride hailing service tests, it is notable as the company's first time achieving Level 4 autonomy, where a vehicle is expected to perform "safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip" without someone behind the wheel.
The next step for Waymo is a big one: a commercial ride-hail service, in which riders can hail one of the company’s autonomous minivans via an app like Uber or Lyft. “People will get to use our fleet of on-demand vehicles, to do anything from commute to work, get home from a night out, or run errands,” Krafcik said.
Waymo has been testing its self-driving vans in Arizona because the state's laws regulating autonomous tests "are practically non-existent." Arizona lacks regulation that requires companies to publicly disclose accidents involving its autonomous vehicles, and various other potential self-driving related incidents, like the number of times a human driver was forced to take the wheel.

According to Chandler's mayor Jay Tibshraeny, "Waymo's work here in Chandler is groundbreaking as they work toward their goal of fully autonomous vehicles. At the same time, this research and development taking place in our community will ultimately make our roads safer and provide new freedom for those unable to drive."

Waymo has multiple competitors in the self-driving market, previously engaging in a legal dispute with Uber earlier in 2017. In February, Waymo accused Uber of stealing Waymo's own self-driving LIDAR system, and then a few months later, Uber fired the engineer accused of stealing the self-driving secrets from Waymo.

For Apple, the Cupertino company has reportedly scaled back its vehicle-related ambitions, with the most recent reports detailing the development of an autonomous service that would shuttle employees around its campus.

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