Waymo Fleets zooms around central Phoenix on a mission

We’ve all seen them. These robotic cars with their strange, spinning pendants.

They are here, there and apparently everywhere these days.

It’s like world War without the eerie genocidal Martians inside. Invasion of the robots.

Take it easy. They’re just Waymos. Way mo ‘of them than before. But this is not radio fraud.

The white Waymo vehicles may only carry passengers in some cities across the valley, but the self-driving cars have been increasingly seen gliding around central Phoenix, whizzing across busy intersections and gathering in parking lots for merchants.

So what gives?

Waymo One, the Google-affiliated company’s ride-hailing app service, is itching to expand beyond its 50-square-mile border of Chandler, Tempe, Mesa and Gilbert. Waymo One has piloted driverless vehicles in Phoenix and San Francisco that take passengers around the city no more than five stops.

There are between 300 and 400 Waymo vehicles in Phoenix, TechCrunch estimates, a technology-centric news site.

Waymo has been in the region since 2016 with the Chrysler Pacific Hybrid minivans and most recently the Jaguar I-PACE, a luxury electrically powered SUV – most often seen in Phoenix ‘downtown areas.

The company first began picking up passengers in 2020, the same year the coronavirus pandemic hit and stopped its progress. The company originally predicted it would roam over 100 square miles of the valley in 2018. Since its launch, the company has had thousands of rides and completed tens of thousands of tours in the Phoenix area.

Waymo uses sensors on the vehicle to collect information about its surroundings from pedestrians to other cars on the road, but also construction and traffic signals. Computer algorithms then use this data and try to predict the movement of something along the way.

Why the recent increase in vehicles on roads in Phoenix where the company is not yet picking up riders?

“We are always actively evaluating new territories and places to drive,” said Julianne McGoldrick, spokeswoman for Waymo. “Mapping and testing play a key role in that.”

On any given day, these vehicles could map, test or take riders around the city. Probeing, as Orson Welles would tell it.

“The vehicles you might see in new areas may be part of various mapping or testing missions,” McGoldrick said.

But the company was the mother of exactly when the autonomous vehicles can start picking up passengers in central Phoenix.

Last year, the company shared results of 6.1 million miles of Waymo driving, of which 65,000 miles were driverless with no one behind the wheel. The company boasts of the data represented more than 500 years of driving experience. In early 2020, the company took passengers on more than 1,000 trips each week, of which approx. 5% were driverless. During his tenure in Phoenix, there were 18 times where Waymo vehicles collided with other vehicles or pedestrians and 29 stimulated collisions for testing purposes, according to a study conducted by the company. The collisions, whether real or simulated, represented a variety of accidents, including rear-end cars, sidecars and pedestrians or cyclists involved.

Sometimes the vehicles have failed in traffic and caused accidents, although the company claims that such cases are rare. Waymo vehicles have even been attacked on the road, some have had tires cut over or stones thrown at them around town.

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