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Waymo early rider program provides insight into self-driving car use

PHOENIX — A select group of Arizonans has been shuttling around the Phoenix area in self-driving cars for the past year, providing insight into the future of the technology.

Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, revealed details Wednesday about what it’s been learning from the early rider program.

More than 20,000 Arizonans have applied for the program since it was launched in April 2017, and nearly 400 riders have been accepted.

“The primary focus of our early rider program is really to have them give us feedback about what they want out of a service like Waymo,” Liz Markman, Waymo communications manager, told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“We’re learning so much from our early feedback.”

The riders, some of the world’s first regular users of self-driving technology, have diverse backgrounds, from high school students to families to senior citizens. Ages range from 9 to 69.

They’ve been using the self-driving cars to get to work, go to school, go shopping and other everyday activities.

Waymo, which is planning to roll out a ride-sharing service using self-driving cars by the end of the year, is using rider feedback to refine the experience.

The company learned that riders have many questions but nobody to ask, so it is developing systems to facilitate communication via a button in the vehicle or through an app.

Another discovery was the necessity for a method of gently waking napping passengers at their destination.

The early rider program is still open for applications from Phoenix-area residents.

The program is in addition to the self-driving car tests Waymo has been doing with employee operators in the Phoenix area and other U.S. cities.

The company said its national fleet has been driving more than 24,000 miles daily.

Waymo is generally considered the leader in the race to create the self-driving technology that could revolutionize the way we get around.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey used light regulations to establish Arizona as an attractive destination for self-driving car companies.

One competitor, Uber, suspended testing after one of its self-driving vehicles struck and killed a woman in Tempe in March.

Uber has since said it would close its Arizona operations but planned to resume testing in other cities.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Martha Maurer contributed to this report.

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