Waymo could be one step closer to launching its own ride-hailing service.
The driverless car unit of Google parent company Alphabet is eyeing the launch of the world’s first self-driving car service as soon as next month, Bloomberg reported, citing sources close to the situation.
The service will operate under a name that’s different from Waymo and compete head-to-head with Uber and Lyft.
A Waymo spokesperson declined to confirm to Bloomberg whether or not the service was in development, as well as the timing of the launch.
Waymo expects to trial the service among dozens or hundreds of riders in the suburbs of Phoenix once it launches in the next few weeks.
The riders could be sourced from Waymo’s Early Rider Program, which includes a test group of 400 volunteers who’ve been trialing the service for over a year, Bloomberg said.
What’s more, the riders will no longer be bound by a non-disclosure agreement, so they’ll be able to discuss the service publicly.
It’s likely that Waymo will add more vehicles and riders to the self-driving car service after it rolls out initially.
The service will use the same Chrysler Pacifica minivans used to test Waymo’s self-driving car technology.
Human backup drivers will be used in most cars as a safety precaution, but the vans will drive themselves 99.9 percent of the time, Bloomberg noted.
Riders will pay fares that are comparable in price to Uber and Lyft via an app that appears similar to Google Maps, but with ride-hailing features.
Waymo will begin operating the service outside Phoenix, but could expand to Silicon Valley shortly after, as California recently gave the firm permission to test cars with no backup drivers in the region.
Experts have noted that it will likely be a while before Waymo’s driverless car service is adopted on the same levels as Uber and Lyft.
Fully self-driving cars remain limited to certain traffic and road conditions, while many developers face challenging regulatory conditions.
HOW DOES WAYMO TEST ITS SELF-DRIVING CARS BEFORE PUTTING THEM ON PUBLIC ROADS?
Waymo built ‘Castle,’ a hidden mock city that can quickly be configured to test different scenarios.
It’s located north of the Merced metro area where the Castle Air Force Base used to be an has been rented by Google since 2014.
As part of the initial two-year lease, the firm rented 80 acres from Merced Country for $456,000, being paid in $19,000 monthly installments.
It has different driving environments including residential streets, expressway-style streets, cul-de-sacs, and parking lots.
At Castle, the roads are named after famous cars, such as DeLorean, Bullitt, Thunderbird, Fury, and Barbaro.
For the structured testing, Waymo looks at how self-driving cars perform on real roads to determine how they need to practice – then they build what’s required at Castle.
The fake city has no buildings except one – a converted military dorm Waymo employees sleep in when they’re too tired to make it back to San Francisco.
It’s hidden, and you need GPS coordinates to find it.