Google’s autonomous driving division Waymo will launch the world’s first commercial self-driving taxi service early this December, Bloomberg reports.
According to a source familiar with the company’s plans, Waymo will launch the autonomous taxi service under a new brand, which will compete directly with the likes of Uber and Lyft.
The new brand name is a “closely guarded secret”, according to the same source, at least until the time for the formal presentation.
“Waymo has been working on self-driving technology for nearly a decade, with safety at the core of everything we do,” the company said in a statement.
Google’s autonomous driving brand will probably avoid making a flashy big announcement and instead offer the new service to a limited amount of customers in the Phoenix suburbs, covering an area of around 100 square miles, according to another source.
The first batch of riders will most likely come from Waymo’s Early Rider Program, which includes around 400 volunteer families that have been riding the company’s autonomous test cars for more than a year. Those who will migrate to the new taxi service will be free to openly talk about it and even take friends and members of the media along for the ride.
“This positions Waymo really far ahead of everyone else,” said Nick Albanese, an intelligent mobility analyst at Bloomberg. “GM is the other leader, and they’re probably more than a year away from doing this. It’s very impressive.”
The new self-driving taxi service will come with backup drivers in the car, helping customers get acquainted with the technology and take over if necessary. According to data from Waymo’s test program, a fleet of modified Chrysler Pacifica models will drive on their own for more than 99.9 percent of the time.