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If you’ve ever wanted to call a car to pick you up – and just a car – you can now call a driverless ride from Google Maps. It’s like something from science fiction, something that would have been unimaginable, or at least unrealistic a few years ago. No longer do people have to wait for a human to show up and hope that they take the quickest route to your destination. Now an autonomous vehicle can take you where you want to go. The caveat? You have to live in the Phoenix, Arizona area. 

The Google Maps symbol on a cell phone.
The Google Maps logo | Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Google is working with Waymo 

Google is working with Waymo to bring autonomous vehicles to a city near you – well, to Phoenix. Together, the tech giant and the autonomous vehicle company announced that they’re making it possible for people to call driverless cars. It sounds kind of strange, right? A driverless car will just show up wherever you are and take you where you need to go. Waymo is already in operation in the Phoenix area, though the ability to call one from Google has only been in practice since June of 2021. 

What is Waymo?

Waymo’s autonomous driving system began as a Google project in 2009. Waymo calls itself an autonomous driving company. Unlike Tesla, whose cars and SUVs come equipped with Tesla Autopilot, Waymo doesn’t make its own cars. Instead, it collaborates with car companies to put its driving system into vehicles. 

Currently variations of Waymo semi-autonomous and autonomous driving systems are in Toyota Priuses, Lexus SUVs, Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, and Jaguar I-PACEs. In Phoenix, Waymo’s driverless system is in Chrysler Pacifica taxis

Waymo says that by developing autonomous driving systems, they’ll be helping to save lives. Driverless cars don’t make the same mistakes that humans do. However, the technology and capabilities to put mass amounts of driverless cars on the roads is still years away.

So then is calling a driverless ride safe?

According to ArsTechnica, Waymo has over 20 million testing miles, and their safety record is pretty good. They say “These crashes have been overwhelmingly minor with no fatalities and few if any serious injuries. Waymo says that a large majority of those crashes have been the fault of the other driver. So it’s very possible that Waymo’s self-driving software is significantly safer than a human driver.”

However, that’s not to say that it’s perfect, and without a human behind the wheel, there’s always a risk that something could go wrong and there would be no one immediately available to remedy it. Still, as testing continues and the service expands, we may get a better idea of the safety and scalability of driverless cars. 

So you can call a driverless ride from Google Maps, but will you? While some people may be hesitant to get in a car without a driver, others may look forward to trying it out or may even prefer the sense of personal safety that can come from not having to trust another person with your life. If these driverless taxis are a hit, perhaps the service will expand, and people in other cities will be able to try it out.