Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving unit is — for the first time — openly inviting the public to join a test of its self-driving vehicles as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ramps up production of modified Pacifica Hybrid minivans that will enable them to transport families around southeastern Phoenix autonomously.
“Eight years and two million miles after Google began to build self-driving car technology, it’s ready for passengers,” Marco della Cava writes for USA Today.
“I'd say our business model on this is TBD (to be determined), and the most important thing that's going on here is learning more about how people would actually use such a service,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik told della Cava a few hours before the official announcement. “It's our first interaction with real people in our cars," he said. “This is a big, big step for us.”
The vans initially will have a Waymo employee in the driver’s seat, della Cava points out, if only to gather information.
“Those accepted into the program, which has already begun quietly operating, will summon a car with an app and then go about their business. They will be encouraged to use the vehicles to go anywhere they would normally go at any hour — the office, the movies, the supermarket, even a late-night search for ice cream,” writes David Streitfeld for the New York Times.
In a piece published on Medium, CEO Krafcik’s lede is: “Like many Americans, Ted, Candace and their four kids have a busy driving routine—heading to work, to school, soccer practice, student council, choir rehearsal and more. Except Ted and Candace aren’t commuting in a typical car. Over the last month, this family, along with a handful of Phoenix, AZ residents, has been riding around in Waymo’s fleet of self-driving vehicles.”
The pilot program is now open to applicants living in parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area including Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe.
“Rather than offering people one or two rides, the goal of this program is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco,” Krafcik writes.
“Waymo is not charging those involved in the trial. It says it is casting a broad net for all types of people in an effort to accumulate reams of data about how driverless cars will be used in practice and not just in theory,” the NYT’s Streitfeld reports.
“The Mountain View, Calif., company already has 100 Chrysler Pacifica self-driving minivans on the road,” Tim Higgins reports for the Wall Street Journal. It employees have been testing them and and Lexus SUVs in Arizona, California, Oregon and Texas.
“Fiat Chrysler will begin producing an additional 500 custom Pacificas next month,” Eric D. Lawrence and della Cava report for the Detroit Free Press. “The deal expands the Auburn Hills automaker's partnership with Waymo at a time when it continues to lag behind competitors who are investing billions to develop their own vehicles.”
Speaking of lagging, the Wall Street Journalreports “Apple Inc.’s plan for autonomous vehicles calls for putting more-senior engineers in all of its cars than some of its rivals are using for road tests, a move that suggests the company is still in the early phases of testing its technology.”
Tripp Mickle and Tim Higgins continue: “In a permit issued April 14 by the state of California, obtained Friday through a public-records request, Apple identifies six employees, including roboticists who worked at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, who will be in the front seat of three Lexus sport-utility vehicles outfitted with technology to make them autonomous.”
You could argue, of course, that Apple did not build the first personal computers, laptops or mobile phones either, but they did all right once they got around to it.
“Of course Apple could build a self-driving car — but should it?” asks Bob O’Donnell, founder and chief analyst of Technalysis Research LLC, a technology consulting and market research firm, in Recode. If you’re guessing his answer is “no,” you’ll have to settle for “the practical challenges it faces suggest it’s probably not the company’s best option.” Then again, “Apple could come up with some type of co-branded partnership arrangement with a willing major carmaker, but does that seem like something Steve would do?”
Indeed, trillion-dollar questions abound — “$2 trillion of revenue [is] tied annually to autos, according to Deloitte Consulting” — but Apple and the six scientists working on “Project Titan” did not respond to the WSJ’s request for comment.