Waymo said Thursday that it is opening its fully driverless ride-hailing service in suburban Phoenix to the public. Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving car unit began ferrying a select group of a few hundred customers, known as “early riders,” in vehicles without safety drivers in the summer of 2019. After receiving feedback from those riders, who were bound by non-disclosure agreements not to discuss their experiences publicly, the company is making driverless rides in its Chrysler Pacifica minivans available to all users in the Phoenix area. “It’s a really, really big deal, we think, for us, and for the world,” said Waymo Chief Executive Officer John Krafcik in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
It’s been five years since Waymo provided the first-ever passenger trip in a driverless vehicle on a public road. The process of scaling the technology, Krafcik said, has been arduous. “It took us two years to get three cars up and running at the same time in fully driverless mode on the streets of Phoenix,” said Krafcik. “It took another year to get a hundred cars.” Despite the plodding pace, Waymo remains the acknowledged industry leader and is the first company to offer paid trips in cars with empty front seats. Earlier this year, Waymo raised more than $3 billion from private equity groups and venture investors, the first time it has taken funds from outside of Alphabet.