While many of today’s driverless car trials still include an engineer in the driving seat, ready to take over in case the vehicle takes a turn for the worse (so to speak), Waymo recently received permission to start sending some of its cars onto the streets without engineers, and with passengers in the back.
The self-driving project once operated by Google has just posted a video showing the reactions of these regular folks, each of whom signed up to become part of Waymo’s Early Rider program so they could try the self-driving vehicles for themselves.
The special rides have been taking place in Phoenix, Arizona, and use Chrysler Pacifica minivans modified by Waymo.
The short video (above) is an upbeat affair and shows riders of all ages appearing to enjoy the experience as their car tootles about the streets of Phoenix, with the steering wheel turning all by itself as it executes various maneuvers.
“This is weird,” a mother comments to her smiling son as they set off down the road. “This is the future,” utters another rider, while someone else notes the surprise of a passing human driver when they spotted the empty driver’s seat.
The video then shows clips presumably taken after the riders have experienced a few journeys in the self-driving car, with the novelty clearly having worn off. There’s less excitement, some are checking their smartphones, others are yawning, and yes, some are fast asleep.
It’s all part of a broader marketing effort by Waymo to convince the public that there’s nothing to fear from climbing into a car without a driver. It’s a serious issue for the many companies currently developing self-driving vehicles, with the results of a survey published in 2017 suggesting that more than 50 percent of people would refuse to ride in a fully autonomous car.
Efforts by Waymo to persuade people of the safety of driverless cars include digital, outdoor, and radio advertising, while a recently launched “Let’s Talk Self-driving” website offers a steady stream of relevant information and advice.
In February, the company released a 360 video shot from one of its driverless cars that explains how its technology works to ensure every journey is safe.
Waymo’s self-driving cars have driven more than five million miles on public roads since the project started in 2009, and in Phoenix the cars have been without a safety driver since late last year. The company is aiming to launch a full-fledged ridesharing service in the city some time this year.