Your robotaxi, coming very soon
After a decade of secrecy, Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent, Alphabet, will be launching driverless taxis in the Phoenix area. The service, that doesn’t have a name yet, will be challenging Uber and Lyft.
In its first wave, Waymo will activate a small fleet (exact number unknown) covering about 100 square miles. The company has a pool of 400 volunteer families, who have been trying out the service for over a year in the Early Rider Program. These families will now be testing the robotaxis as well as the booking application. Gradually, other users in Phoenix will be added to the pool of users.
In the next wave, the services will be offered in the US’ metropolitan areas before expanding outward.
Good to be the first
Winning the race for autonomous taxis has an advantage; other suppliers will have to trouble to catch up while Waymo is building out its car fleet, maintenance centres and support services. A fleet of 62,000 PHEV Pacifica minivans and 20,000 I-Pace will be delivered to Waymo in 2019.
A decade of research, Google technology, Alphabet funding and an early launch have boosted the ride-hailing app’s value to US$ 80 billion, even without a single taxi on the roads. Next to the new ride-hailing services, Waymo will market its solutions also to trucking logistics and technology licensing, adding another US$ 96 billion to its value.
The most evident competitors are obviously Lyft and Uber, but also GM, Daimler, VW and others will launch self-driving services in a foreseeable future. And then there’s Tesla.
All Tesla’s with updated software and the self-driving module, contain a program that allows the owners to activate their car as a robotaxi. This means that, as soon as the regulatory hassle is done and dealt with, Tesla can hypothetically challenge Waymo and others with a fleet of several hundreds of thousand cars.
The services can be ordered on a Google-maps type of application. In order to ease customers into its driverless services, Waymo will have backup drivers in the cars.
The pricing model will be competitive with Uber’s and Lyft’s pricing, but in a first phase, not aimed at making profit. In the next phases, waiting time, cleaning cost, toll and surge costs will be added to the baseline pricing. The company is obviously also looking into in-ride entertainment and advertising to boost its profits.