|Airports give robotaxis runway ahead|
Airports are a linchpin in the long-term success of robotaxis. Roughly a quarter of all ride-hailing customers seek trips to or from airports, a substantial portion of business. Perhaps perplexingly, few self-driving companies have tested their systems in this realm.
So it felt like an underappreciated moment when Waymo unveiled testing at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Wednesday. Waymo said it would start allowing employees to hail rides between downtown Phoenix and the airport, with backup human safety drivers aboard. Initial service will start with the company's Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicles pictured above.
It's an incremental step, but an important one. When I visited Waymo last fall, the locations missing from the company's coverage area in metro Phoenix (the international airport and the campus of Arizona State University) stood out as much as the technical competence within its 50-square-mile operational zone.
Waymo has since added service in downtown Phoenix as part of its Trusted Tester program. Now it's operating at Sky Harbor, where the chaotic nature of curbs, loading of luggage and people saying goodbyes in the street make for challenging scenarios for robot drivers.
Few others have entered such territory. Motional and Zoox test at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. WeRide's self-driving taxis have explored connecting the Qionghai Bo'ao Airport and Dongyu Island in China.
There are other noteworthy automated-vehicle projects at airports involving baggage carts. Separately, Steer Tech is working with officials at Dallas-Fort Worth on a project that could let vehicles drop their owners off at the curb and then park themselves within the confines of the airport geofenced area.
But overall, the hard work involved in establishing vital connections between cities and airports via self-driving taxis, even in test scenarios, has hardly begun. This development should be considered another signal of Waymo's seriousness.
— Pete Bigelow