Alphabet’s Waymo on Wednesday unveiled a major development in its expensive, decade-long quest for autonomous transportation: self-driving taxis that generate fares.
With little fanfare, the company has started charging passengers to use its driverless vehicles in a approximately 100-mile (160 km) zone in four Phoenix suburbs – Chandler, Tempe, Mesa and Gilbert – where tested its technology since 2016.
Producing revenue is a strategic milestone, putting Waymo ahead of U.S. competitors, mainly General Motors’ Cruise Automation and Uber Technologies, that have yet to introduce their own paid self-driving services. All are racing to win consumers and recoup billions invested in developing the technology.
To use Waymo’s service, dubbed Waymo One, riders will have to download an app and provide a credit card number, just like ridesharing services Uber and Lyft. A human driver will be behind the wheel, but only for intervening when there is a case of emergency.
Waymo has not said exactly how many of its vehicles would be on the road in Arizona. It stated its around-the-clock service at start would be limited to “hundreds” of people invited to sign up in 2017. For now, pricing is approximately in line with that of Uber and Lyft.
The company has been testing its driverless vehicles for a decade. Its fleet, now includes 600 vehicles, has logged over 10 million miles on public roads in and about 25 American cities. Alphabet does not reveal its total investment, but industry experts put that sum at more than $1 billion.