The amazing future of driverless cars, where the public finally gets behind the (now useless) wheel, has finally arrived, and that cutting-edge future is… a minivan for Ted, Candace, and their four kids.
Earlier this morning, Waymo, the recently renamed Google division behind the company’s driverless car technology, announced that it will be accepting members of the public for its early rider program. But unlike the randomized, app-summoned public autonomous trials of a company like, say, Uber, Waymo is specifically looking for families.
There are some fairly significant limits to participation; families must live in the Phoenix area, and only a few hundred of them will be chosen to participate. But the fact that these families will be among the first to have access to Waymo’s driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans, all day every day, across a coverage area that measures “twice the size of San Francisco,” according to Waymo, is groundbreaking.
Waymo’s approach is showing what is perhaps a more realistic vision of driverless cars, or at least testing driverless cars with a more representative market of American drivers. As the promo video featuring Ted, Candace, and their family implies, offering an average middle-class family a robot chauffeur to take kids to and from practices all week would be nothing short of a godsend.
It also suggests that, instead of testing on early adopters, or engineering a high-tech product for a high-end market that may or may not need it, Waymo is testing their self-driving technology on a demographic much closer to the average American car owner. The second half of the announcement noted that the company is adding another 500 self-driving minivans to its fleet, just to underline how it’s aiming for everyday drivers.
“Our early riders will play an important role in shaping the way we bring self-driving technology into the world—through personal cars, public transportation, ride-hailing, logistics and more,” said John Krafcik, the Waymo CEO, in a statement.
Waymo also may have snuck in a few digs at Uber and its seemingly endless string of bad publicity, including the San Francisco reference (where Uber was unceremoniously kicked out of town) and a lawsuit that contends Uber stole its tech. While Uber struggles with transparency, Waymo is offering a much more open, accessible approach to rider testing.
If driverless car technology is going to make transportation more efficient—and one hopes, more environmentally sustainable—then understanding and adapting to the needs of these kinds of customers would certainly make a bigger dent than helping tech bros get to and from events downtown. If you’re in Phoenix, sign up here.