Waymo is expanding its early rider program in Arizona to include self-driving rides for everyday tasks such as grocery shopping and hotel stays, taking the next step in acclimating a wary public to autonomous technology.
The new and expanded partnerships with Walmart, real estate investment group DDR Corp., local hotelier Element Hotel, Avis Budget Group and AutoNation, announced last week, offer a variety of ways for people to end up in the back seat of a driverless car. Participants will be able to use Waymo's self-driving vehicles for shopping, dining and business excursions, and for short-term rental and repair purposes.
"These are incremental steps, but it's all about getting butts in seats," said Akshay Anand, executive analyst with Kelley Blue Book. "Consumers who have experiences with autonomous technology are much more open to fully autonomous vehicles."
The new partnerships will be confined to the metropolitan Phoenix area, where Waymo established its early rider program for residents in 2017. The company said that 400 riders participate in the program. Waymo is preparing for the launch of a commercial service this year.
Waymo has used strategic partnerships to let it focus on core autonomous technology, true to its roots in sibling company Google's research labs.