Google has begun monetising autonomous driving. Ahead of the competition, Waymo, the automotive division of Alphabet, a subsidiary of Google, has launched Waymo One, the world’s first autonomous taxi service. Of course, the word “service” makes one think of robots on four wheels driving the streets without any help, but in reality, for now the experiment is very limited. Just a few hundred lucky passengers will be able to enjoy the thrill of booking their taxi with a tap, find it waiting for them in front of their house, and get to their destination without doing a thing. Lucky passengers who were already involved in the previous pilot programme. The difference is that now they can take family and friends with them, gradually extending the range of this revolution on four wheels. Also, and this is not an aspect to be overlooked, they now have to pay.
So, has the future arrived? Almost, because now it’s time for the bad news. First of all, there will be a Waymo engineer on board. Totally autonomous driving is in fact for now prohibited in many cities, and extremely limited in just a handful of others. Only a few protected routes, but nothing more. Those who have got on board the four-wheeled robots say that they go very slowly, often in a jerky manner, and don’t go very far. The area of action is in fact limited to the city of Phoenix, Arizona, which is one of the most open to this type of innovation. The taxis are allowed to circulate in four city suburbs: Chandler, Tempe, Mesa and Gilbert, for a range of one hundred miles, approximately one hundred and sixty kilometres.
Although this is no revolution, it is in any case another step forward. This experimental phase will serve to understand the scope of the service, costs, efficiency and above all to understand if the six hundred vehicles built up to now and the one billion dollars invested by Waymo can create some level of profit. In the meantime, the Chrysler Pacific Hybrids belonging to Waymo One run 24 hours a day, and prices seem to be in line with those of Uber and Lyft. A 15-minute journey - approximately 5 kilometres - costs $7.59 compared to $7.22 charged by Lyft. As some would say, it could work.