Waymo’s early rider program, one year in

Ariel rides after school. Neha hops to the grocery store. Barbara and Jim zip around town while kicking back.

They’re all part of the Waymo early rider program we launched last April. Today, over 400 riders with diverse transportation needs use Waymo every day, at any time, to ride all around the Phoenix area. Their feedback helps us understand how fully self driving cars fit into their daily lives.

One year in, our early rider program and our extensive on-road testing is helping us build the world’s most experienced driver. In fact, our fleet of cars across the U.S. is now driving more than 24,000 miles daily; that’s the equivalent of an around the world road trip! Here’s a quick report on how our riders use Waymo, what we’ve learned, and what’s next.

Where are we going?

Our applicants come from all corners of the community: senior citizens, high school students, families with young children, people living with disabilities or without a driver’s license. All said they wanted to try truly self-driving technology, and many mentioned their hopes for a future of safer streets and roadways.

Our early riders go everywhere under the Arizona sun: on daily trips to work and school, on rides to doctors and dentists, on shopping trips to the local Chandler Fashion Center Mall. They hop in Waymo vehicles to visit restaurants and bars or catch a movie at the AMC Ahwatukee. Along the way they do homework, catch up on emails, read books, or even just daydream and check out the local scenery.

Who’s riding?

The households who participate in our program have family members aged 9 to 69. Some don’t drive because they’re too young; others lack a license for medical reasons. One rider is a former Peace Corps volunteer who doesn’t own a car, and another bikes to work every day but needs Waymo for weekend errands.

Meet a few of our Waymo early riders:

  1. Neha has avoided driving ever since witnessing a fatal car crash years ago. She says it’s “mind-blowing” that she can now take self-driving cars to run errands, get groceries, and commute back and forth to work.
  2. Barbara says she’d do more knitting on her self-driving rides if she wasn’t so busy checking out the local sights with her husband Jim. Though she’s lived in the same neighborhood for 20 years, she missed a lot while she was focused on driving — even including a nearby park she never noticed before.
  3. Chris, Marie, Miranda, and Ariel are a one-car family, so self-driving cars help the parents keep up with their kids’ busy lives. Their two teenagers often ride Waymo to their after-school activities.

What we’re learning

As some of the first people in the world to use self-driving vehicles for their everyday transportation needs, our early riders are helping shape this technology. Thanks to their feedback, we’re refining the rider experience to make sure that:

Riding from point A to point B is simple. Drives ought to feel natural, and pickups and dropoffs should feel intuitive. In Arizona’s sunny high temperatures, nobody wants to carry grocery bags a block down the street. We’re working to give our vehicles the smarts to arrive as close as possible to the best exit doors wherever our riders want to go.

Contacting us is easy. We’re learning a lot about the questions passengers have for their driver when the driver is the car itself. We’re building systems to let riders ask questions or get assistance at any time with the tap of a button inside our vehicle or through our app. They contact us on a wide range of topics — everything from “how do I play my own music in your car” and “what route will we take to my destination” to “I left my sunglasses, how can I get them back” and “can I bring my service animal with me” (the answer: of course).

Ride for every reason. Our early riders are a diverse group, from veteran commuters to middle-school students, to busy parents with small children. They help us understand all kinds of reasons people need rides … and even help us determine how our cars should gently wake up napping riders at their destination!

Our early rider program continues to take applications; if you live in the area, drop us a line. You might become the next Waymo early rider, helping to bring our self-driving service to even more people in the future.