Reading about ever-advancing autonomous car technology is one thing, but actually being able to let an autonomous vehicle self-drive you is a whole different ball game. Google is now offering the chance for a few lucky families to have access to a self-drive car – as long as you are in the Phoenix, Arizona area.
The Google self-drive car project became Waymo in 2016, following the first toe in the water under the Google moniker way back in 2009. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, had wisely decided that to progress the self-drive project forward, it would be a good idea to work in collaboration with established motor manufacturers, rather than as competition and building autonomous vehicles themselves.
The Google spin off company has announced that it will provide 500 Chrysler Pacifica vans for the ground-breaking scheme. The Pacifica is a hybrid minivan that Waymo has had built on a mass production platform with integrated hardware designed for the purpose of self-driving. The Pacifica has undergone rigorous testing, including 200 hours of extreme weather testing and being put through its paces on Waymo’s California based test track.
The company says that by joining the early rider self-drive programme in the metropolitan areas of Phoenix (Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert), that users will be able to use the automobiles to visit places that would be frequently visited on a day-to-day basis, such as work, school and the like. As a participant in the programme users will be required to give detailed feedback to the Waymo team.
How to get involved
To qualify, applicants need to be over 18 – but all qualifying family members of a successful applicant will then be eligible to join the programme. Waymo hopes to pass ‘hundreds’ of applications through to activation.
The vehicles being used are not just limited to the Chrysler hybrid Pacifica van, as the scheme will also include the Lexus RX450h, which was added to the Google driverless fleet in 2012 and commenced freeway tests that year with various Google employees.
To counteract any safety fears that applicants might have, Waymo point out that since 2009 more than 3 million miles have been self-driven, while the software has undergone the equivalent of 1 billion miles in testing. You may remember some sensational tabloid reports of a Google self-drive Lexus being involved in a crash last September, although this was the fault of a red light jumping automobile that crashed into the side of the Lexus; I can’t think of a single way such an accident could be avoided, but it’s reassuring I’m sure for potential participants to see how many hours have gone into testing so far.
The programme is already underway, and you can read about the first users on the Waymo website. We very much look forward to the results, as self-drive technology continues to advance us ever nearer to living with autonomous vehicles on our streets.