For slightly more than a year, 400 volunteers have tested out Waymo's self-driving car service in Phoenix, Arizona, for free, letting the driverless vehicles whisk them to work, shopping centers, the bar, or anywhere else within a 100-square-mile area.
In that time, these riders have been filing the non-technical equivalent of bug reports, using the cars' rider support call buttons and in-app feedback forms to point out issues with the service and highlight use cases that Waymo researchers might have missed.
Through their experiences, Waymo has learned a few things:
- It needs to get better at designating specific pick-up entrances at a store so that frustrated riders won't have to lug shopping bags through the hot sun to reach a car
- On narrow streets, riders prefer to cross the road to reach a car, instead of having it drive to the end of a road, turn around and come back
- It needed to figure out how to accommodate people with service animals (it figured this out after a query from a passenger)
- The best way to wake sleeping passengers is with a little chime sound.
Not all the rides have been seamless, which is kind of point of this experimental phase.
"We're taking each element of their feedback and weaving it into the car's design and its behavior," Saswat Panigrahi, a Waymo product manager, tells CNBC.