Enlarge / One of the earliest self-driving trial families pose with Waymo’s minivan. (credit: Waymo)
Waymo—Alphabet’s self-driving car division—is launching a “trial” of a self-driving taxi service in the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area.

The Google spinoff’s fleet of self-driving cars is descending on Phoenix and offering free rides to anyone in its “early rider program,” which is currently accepting new members.
The taxi service is not totally “self-driving.” Waymo notes that “as part of this early trial, there will be a test driver in each vehicle monitoring the rides at all times.” While the car will handle most of the driving duties, a driver will ensure nothing goes wrong if the car runs into a situation it can’t handle. While the trial will offer free rides to Phoenix residents, it will also serve as a research program for Waymo.

The company’s blog post say it wants to “learn things like where people want to go in a self-driving car, how they communicate with our vehicles, and what information and controls they want to see inside.”
To handle the load of a city-wide taxi service, Waymo is building 500 more of its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, bring the total minivan fleet to 600.

The minivans represent the latest in Waymo’s technology.
In a recent talk at the North American International Auto Show, Waymo CEO John Krafcik said the vehicles would be the launch platform for Waymo’s “full-stack approach,” which combined Waymo’s software with a “fully integrated hardware suite” that is “all designed and built, from the ground up, by Waymo.” Most self-driving car programs stick to developing software using Velodyne’s LiDAR hardware.
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