Waymo Is Inviting Hundreds of People to Use Its Self-Driving Minivans

April 25, 2017, 7:00 AM UTC

Waymo, the Google (GOOGL) project that spun out to become a business under Alphabet, is inviting hundreds of people to test its self-driving Fiat Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in a trial that will give users broad access to its fleet any day, at any time.

The company made the announcement on Tuesday, also disclosing that it will add another 500 self-driving minivans to its fleet—a sixfold increase as it prepares to ramp up its operations and move into more communities.

“The collaboration between FCA and Waymo has been advantageous for both companies as we continue to work together to fully understand the steps needed to bring self-driving vehicles to market,” Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a statement.

Fiat Chrysler will ramp up production of the minivans in May. Once Waymo takes delivery of the vehicles, the company will outfit the minivans with its self-driving technology.

Neither company said when these 500 new vehicles would be on the road. The vans will be spread throughout communities where Waymo is currently testing on public roads, including Austin, Texas, Kirkland, Wash., Mountain View, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz.

Waymo’s early rider program will be open to applicants from those living in towns within the greater Phoenix area, including Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, and Tempe.

A handful of families have already been using Waymo’s self-driving cars for the past two months. This larger-scale public trial will be open to “hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs who want to ride in and give feedback about Waymo’s self-driving cars,” CEO John Krafcik wrote in a blog posted Tuesday on Medium.

“Rather than offering people one or two rides, the goal of this program is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that’s about twice the size of San Francisco,” Krafcik wrote.

The company also released the following video, highlighting a Phoenix couple with four kids who have reportedly been using the vehicles for the past month.

“It gives me a lot of freedom, because I get to go where I want to go, instead of having to ask to get driven around everywhere,” a participant says in the promotional video.


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hbd8N3j7bg]

To be clear, there will be a Waymo test driver in every self-driving minivan. The test driver can take control of the vehicle if needed, though the aim is for the entire ride to be autonomous. Those accepted into the early rider program will use an app developed by Waymo to order a self-driving vehicle.

Waymo says it will use the intel it gathers during this trial to test how people use the autonomous vehicles in their daily lives. The company wants to learn how everyday folks most effectively communicate with the vehicle, and what the experience is like as a passenger, rather than a driver.

“Everything we learn in this program will apply to all kinds of self-driving products and services, from personal cars to public transportation to ride-hailing, carsharing, logistics and more,” Krafcik wrote.