I'm in the middle seat of a Chrysler Pacifica minivan, heading north on Dobson Road in Chandler, Arizona, when I notice we may have taken a wrong turn. Under normal circumstances, I would just lean forward and ask the driver for an explanation. There is, after all, no driver to ask. Last October, Alphabet's self-driving subsidiary Waymo emailed its customers in the suburbs of Phoenix to let them know that "completely driverless Waymo cars are on the way." For several years, Waymo has offered its autonomous taxi service to a small group of people, but the rides typically included a safety driver behind the steering wheel.
This car is all yours, with no one up front," the pop-up notification from the Waymo app reads. "This ride will be different. With no one else in the car, Waymo will do all the driving. Moments later, an empty Chrysler Pacifica minivan appears and navigates its way to my location near a park in Chandler, the Phoenix suburb where Waymo has been testing its autonomous vehicles since 2016. More than a dozen journalists experienced driverless rides in 2017 on a closed course at Waymo's testing facility in Castle; and Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, took a driverless ride in the company's Firefly prototype on Austin's city streets way back in 2015.
It seems the novelty of riding in a driverless car wears off quickly, if promotional footage from Google's Waymo is to be believed. Members of the public taking part in its Early Rider program in Arizona were recently invited to take trips in its now fully automated minivans. After their initial excitement wears off, the video clip shows them playing with their phones, taking selfies and even falling asleep. Waymo's first publicly available ride-hailing service is expected to be unveiled in Phoenix later this year, after the state gave the plans the go-ahead. Members of the public taking part in its Early Rider program in Arizona were recently invited to take trips in its now fully automated minivans.
Last month, Waymo launched its first self-driving taxi service -- Waymo One -- in Phoenix, Arizona, but you would hardly know it by scrolling through your feed. We don't know how many people are using the Google offshoot's self-driving minivans (Waymo won't say), but the ones that are have been surprisingly mute on social media. One exception is Shawn Metz, a 30-year-old HR manager who lives in Chandler, Arizona. Since he was invited to use Waymo One in December, Metz has posted at least a dozen videos on Instagram and YouTube, documenting his experience using Waymo's self-driving minivans. He's become the hero of AV enthusiasts on Reddit for his willingness to answer questions and post unedited videos of his rides.
A link has been posted to your Facebook feed. Waymo self-driving cars are seen Nov. 28, 2018, in Chandler. Emergency crews directed the afternoon traffic around the wrecked cars and fire engines at McQueen and Pecos roads in the Phoenix suburb in mid-October. The Chrysler Pacifica minivan -- equipped with former Google car company Waymo's self-driving vehicle technology -- approached the scene tepidly, while dozens of other vehicles merged into the turn lanes far sooner. A human driver in this situation might try to make eye contact with the drivers already in the crowded turn lane, or even wave, to try to cut in.