#64 Waymo One – riding a driverless taxi

A driverless taxi

I finally I had a chance to take a short ride on Waymo One.

Waymo One is a commercial driverless taxi service owned by Google.

A screenshot of Waymo website.
Waymo website

Currently, the service is available only in Arizona Pheonix area.

A screenshot of Waymo website that describes "Now taking riders in Metro Phoenix".
Waymo website

Mobile app

Waymo has an app that you can download. It works pretty much the same as Uber app. You enter a destination, set up a payment method, then request a car.

A screenshot of Waymo app, where the pickup location and the destination were set, ready to request a car.
Waymo app

I had to do a few trial and error though.

First, I tried to request a service from inside a mall/business complex, and it didn’t work.

An illustration of the author requesting Waymo One from inside a mall/business complex.

Also, my initial destination brought up a message saying Waymo can only get me to a place that is 5 min walk away from the destination.

An illustration showing my initial destination showed that Waymo could only take me to a point which is a 5 minutes walk from the destination.

Waymo did not like my initial payment method, so I had to enter another credit card.

Even after going through all these, I got a message saying “No car available, try again later.”

An illustration showing that Waymo app displaying a message saying "No car available, try again later".

After making several attempts, my request finally went through.

Waymo arrived

After 3-4 minutes, Waymo car arrived.

A photo of Waymo car arriving at my pickup location.

When I opened the door, it greeted me with a welcome message via audio as well as on a touch screen. Once I got in and buckled my seat belt, I pressed “START RIDE” button, which started the autonomous driving.

A photo of Waymo's touch screen showing a welcome screen with Start Ride button.

Riding Waymo

It’s definitely kind of a surreal experience to see a car moving with an empty driver’s seat.

A photo of the interior of Waymo One with an empty seat while it's driving.

As soon as it started moving, the touch screen in front of me started displaying a 3D map.

A photo of a 3D map displayed on Waymo's touch screen.

The 3D map also showed other surrounding cars as Waymo’s sensors detected those.

Waymo's 3D map showing surrounded cars with callouts.

An overall ride was quite smooth.

  • Waymo car stopped at a stop sign, did turns slowly.
  • It even slowed down when driving over a bump on a road.
  • It stopped perfectly at a signal, did smooth lane changes.
  • On a main road, it accelerated up to 45 mph at some point.

A pickup truck blocking the way

When it was getting close to the destination, which was a Starbucks, it slowly pulled in, and tried to get to the front entrance of the store.

As Waymo was maneuvering the parking lot, it detected a large pickup truck blocking the way. Waymo went around and came back again, but the pickup truck was still there.

But this time, Waymo approached closely to the pickup truck and waited.

The driver of the pickup truck noticed Waymo, and moved slightly, but that was still not enough for Waymo to go through.

Then the pickup truck made another slight move.

At the same time, Waymo yielded.

It got very close to the pickup truck, but as the pickup truck adjusted the steering wheel away from Waymo and slowly passed by, Waymo also managed to get through, and stopped right at the front of Starbucks entrance.

I was a bit worried about how Waymo was going to handle the pickup truck situation, but it waited and moved patiently.

A photo of a large pickup truck blocking the way, seen from inside Waymo.

4 Physical buttons

There are 4 physical buttons on the ceiling of the car facing passenger seats. Help, lock/unlock, pull over, and start ride.

A photo of 4 physical buttons on the ceiling of Waymo.

Start ride button was in blue, being treated as a primary button.

There was also an on-screen start ride button, but it’s a good idea to have a physical button too in case a screen does not work.

Waymo took off

Once I got out and closed the door, it slowly took off.

A photo of Waymo taking off after I got off.

That was it!

It was a short ride, 1.8 miles, 7 minutes total.

I have to say, that the ride was quite comfortable.

It’s definitely interesting and weird that no one is sitting on a driver’s seat and the steering wheel is moving on its own at all times throughout the ride.

Psychologically, I felt nervous especially when Waymo speed up to 40-45 miles an hour on a major road.

I also felt a bit uneasy when Waymo was getting really close to the pick up truck blocking the way.

Witnessing the history of transportation

But it’s great to be a witness of a transitional state in the history of transportation system.

A illustration of the author overseeing and witnessing the history of transportation graph, where autonomous cars are rapidly growing while automobile is declining.

Just like when Henry Ford invented his very first automobile, Ford Quadricycle, also known as the horseless carriage in 1896, the very first self-driving car that we now have is called “driverless car” with a driver’s seat.

A picture of Henry Ford's Ford Quadricycle in 1896, with a large text "Horseless carriage" on top.
A photo of inside Waymo with an empty driver seat, with a text "Driverless car" on top.

This is really interesting from a UX perspective, that we always inherit something that we are already familiar with when creating a new thing.

The same thing happened in a computer when a “desktop” metaphor was taken from a physical office, and GUI buttons took queues from physical, mechanical buttons.

A screenshot of the original Apple Macintosh 128K GUI from 1984.

Overtime, a new invention will evolve into something totally different as it gets optimized for a new, better way of performing tasks or achieving goals.

An illustration of various different horse carriages, Ford model T, then more modern automobiles, all lined up horizontally to show an evolution.

Once a driverless car, or an autonomous car advances to the next level, the empty driver’s seat will disappear and the entire space will be dedicated for passengers to fully embrace it.

I’m curious how that experience is going to be.

A futuristic image of autotmated-vehicle interiors. Source: automobilemag.com

How would that change our behaviors and lifestyle?

An illustration of the author relaxing on a reclining chair, looking at futuristic city view on a window.

And I cannot wait to see that future!

Check out YouTube version too!

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