Waymo sticking with autonomous ride zone for now - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Waymo sticking with autonomous ride zone for now

January 5th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Waymo sticking with autonomous ride zone for now

Executive Editor

Chandler residents who are hoping to catch a ride to downtown Phoenix or Scottsdale in one of those odd-looking white Chrysler minivans or Jaguar sedans with no one behind the wheel will have to keep waiting.

Waymo spokeswoman Amanda Ventura Zink told members of the PHX East Valley Partnership recently that the company has no plans at this time to extend its autonomous service beyond its current 50-square mile area that covers a good piece of Chandler and parts of Tempe and Mesa.

That doesn’t mean Chandler residents can’t download the Waymo app and ride in one of its vehicles – for a per-mile fee, like Uber. They just have to make sure they stay in Waymo’s zone, which extends into part    of south Chandler.

Zink’s revelation brought some expressions of disappointment from some of the people who were on the Zoom meeting that EVP hosted to hear from Zink and Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith – who focused his presentation mostly on what Valley Metro has been doing to the light rail system and the Tempe trolley system.

The disappointed listeners complained how getting to downtown Phoenix from Chandler on a bus, let alone their own automobile, was a long and frustrating chore.

But the fact that Waymo hasn’t expanded its service area doesn’t mean it has been idling.

Indeed, Zink laid out an impressive list of advancements that Waymo has made since it opened its area headquarters in Chandler almost five years ago.

With the vehicles themselves, Waymo is now entering the fifth generation and working on technologies like advanced cruise control, “lane departure assist,” electric-powered and hybrid models and enhancements to the monitor passengers view as their vehicle takes them around.

“No one needs to sit at the front seat or behind the wheel and an empty car can pick you up and take you where you need to go while you sit in the back seat – that’s truly autonomous and that’s what we’re pursuing at Waymo,” she said.

“Our mission is to make it safe and easy for people and things to get where they’re going,” she said, noting one million people annually lose their lives and 15 million are inured in traffic accidents around the world.

“We believe that fully autonomous technology holds the potential to save lives, make roads safer, offer new mobility options to millions of people and improve their independence,” she continued, reporting that the passenger vehicles have driven 20 million actual miles and another 20 billion miles virtually as Waymo tests the sensors and other components of its technology. Many of those miles also have involved weather-testing vehicles in 25 other cities around the country.

It’s not just cars the company is working on either.

Zink said Waymo’s autonomous semitrailers have been long-hauling goods along I-10 from New Mexico to Texas while it’s also using its minivans and sedans to deliver car parts for AutoNation within its service area and working with UPS to make deliveries in Tempe.

Waymo also is trying to get the driving public to quit referring to their vehicles as “driverless.”

“As more people join the conversation around autonomous driving technology,” Zink explained, “researchers are finding that people maybe don’t fully understand what their own technology and their vehicles are capable of and they might equate it with autonomous driving technology and think that they don’t need to be as attentive as they should be. This is a safety risk on our roads and we think that by helping drive that conversation around the differences between driver-assisted and autonomous driving technology that we could be helping them be safer drivers.”

While the autonomous vehicles might not yet become a presence on some south Chandler streets in the near future, Smith said that eventually Waymo vehicles will become an integral part of his grand vision for public transportation throughout the Valley, where a Waymo vehicle might take someone to a bus stop or light rail station, for example.

“There’s a ton of potential for us to help integrate that into public transit,” he said.

“It will be seamless. It will be efficient. I think that’s the real future and I think it will make it so that people won’t have to have cars because for their local transportation, there will be a series of micro-transit, point-to-point” stops, Smith said.