As it trials commercial robotaxi service in Arizona, Waymo is looking for ways to make its driverless rides more attractive than conventional ride-sharing
Waymo launched a commercial driverless taxi service in an outlying area of Phoenix, Arizona at the end of last year, to a limited pool of more than 1,000 early adopters.
At present human backup drivers are always present in Waymo’s vehicles, but the company has said it ultimately plans to remove them.
In the meantime, Waymo continues to make a loss on its business, whose revenues come from per-trip fees comparable to those charged by rivals such as Uber and Lyft.
The company is experimenting with ways of making its services more desireable than those of competitors, which could allow it to attract more passengers or to charge more for rides.
The on-board services offered to date include free Wi-Fi and ad-free music streaming from Google Play Music, Reuters reported.
Other perks include child car seats and air conditioning to combat the Arizona heat.
The Wi-Fi feature is reportedly available to a subset of users of the Waymo One service that has access to test features but is barred from talking about them.
Waymo declined to disclose details of the Wi-Fi service, but said it is offered with no usage restrictions.
The Google Play Music feature allows users to select from eight playlists displayed on a seatback touchscreen.
Users can also link their Waymo and Google Play Music accounts in order to listen to playlists of their own.
Testing the waters
The moves shed light on Waymo’s strategic manoeuvres as it tests the waters for its pioneering driverless taxi service, which it operates via a fleet of hundreds of identical minivans.
While human backup drivers are always present, they remain in the background, with the company saying it wants passengers to feel that they can customise the ride experience.
“We encourage riders to make this space their own,” Waymo spokeswoman Julianne McGoldrick said.
Passengers begin the trip themselves, for instance, by pressing either a “start” button displayed on-screen or one built into the vehicle’s headliner.
At this, a chime sounds and a robotic-sounding female voice says: “Here we go.”
Waymo faces stiff competition from the likes of Uber, Lyft and a range of smaller start-ups, as well as broader uncertainty over what the path might actually be to fully automated transport.
In Arizona, an executive order from the state’s governor in March of 2018 clarified that automated vehicles without a human driver are allowed on the state’s public roads.
However, it remains unknown how a company would actually go about operating a fully driverless vehicle with no human backup.
A recent study found that engineers at driverless car firms believe taking such a step could be more than ten years away.