Introducing Driverless Taxis into the $7 trillion Self-Driving Industry

Waymo One, the world’s first self-driving taxi service, was launched on Wednesday in Arizona. The service is much like Lyft and Uber- but without the human driver – and is dubbed as a commercial robot ride-hailing service. Waymo One’s origin is in Google’s famous X lab, where engineers first began working on the first rendition of the driverless car about a decade ago, in 2009. Now, Waymo is run as an arm of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc.

Similar to Uber or Lyft, customers order a ride with a smartphone application, but when the Waymo One car arrives it will be driving itself. In the meantime, there is a Waymo One employee who sits in the car ready to hit a red stop button in case something goes wrong, which is a move that is supposed to reassure users in the early days. Waymo’s fleet of cars consists of 600 Chrysler Pacifica minivans decked out with a combination of radar, optical, ultrasound and lidar sensors.

The service is currently available only in several eastern and southeastern Phoenix suburbs, including Chandler, Tempe, Mesa and Gilbert. That area was chosen for its car-friendly road conditions; the terrain is flat, dry, well-kept, well-marked, and without a lot of pedestrian foot traffic to get in the way.

The self-driving car industry is progressing at a cautiously slow pace because of safety concerns. Waymo Chief Executive John Krafcik released a statement saying, “Self-driving technology is new to many, so we’re proceeding carefully with the comfort and convenience of our riders in mind.” Concerns are not unwarranted. Recently, in March an Uber robot car hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona when the car failed to break. Tesla’s Autopilot system run cars have also been involved in fatalities.

The industry is placing a lot of its hopes on Waymo because it is seen as the emerging leader because of its connection to Google with its deep pockets and expertise in mapping and machine learning.

However, recent accidents make the crucial question as to the safety and vulnerabilities of driverless even more pressing. Distracted driving, according to Bradshaw Law LLC, is the primary cause of car accidents and the risk of accidents, injuries and fatalities increases at higher speeds. The question must be asked, if there is no driver to get distracted, who is to be held liable in the case of a tragedy? There currently are no federal laws relating to the testing and safety of self-driving cars. Rather, individual states have their own regulations, although Congress is attempting to pass federal legislation.