While in Arizona to visit family over the holidays, I drove out to the suburbs southeast of Phoenix to hail a ride in one of Waymo’s driverless vehicles. I had been in one before, accompanied by a safety driver, but this was my first time back in the state since Waymo went fully driverless with its public rides in 2020 — I wanted to see for myself what it was like to have a ghost behind the wheel. So, on the first Sunday in January, I took my father and my two children to a Walmart parking lot in Tempe, just inside Waymo One’s 50-square-mile service area. It seemed as good a place as any for my first robo-taxi ride. Here are my five takeaways:
The future has arrived:
It’s been more than a decade since Alphabet Inc., then called Google, founded its self-driving car project. In that time, ambitious rhetoric has given way to sober realizations about just how hard it is to build and scale a robo-taxi service. Still, at least in this small slice of the world, Google’s vision has become real. Hailing a driverless Waymo was as simple as hailing an Uber. I downloaded an app to my iPhone, provided my payment information, entered my desired destination, then waited. When the empty Chrysler Pacifica pulled into the parking lot ten minutes later, with my name on a display in the windshield, it felt like a magic trick.