Automotive

Free rides offered by Alphabet's Waymo autonomous cars

Alphabet's self-driving car unit Waymo is offering free rides to residents in Arizona as part of its testing of autonomous vehicles.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan in January © (AFP)

Waymo CEO John Krafcik at the 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan in January © (AFP)

SAN FRANCISCO - Alphabet's self-driving car unit Waymo is offering free rides to residents in Arizona as part of its testing of autonomous vehicles.

The former Google car division, which has been rebranded as Waymo, announced in a blog post late Monday it was taking applications to be part of its "early rider" program in the Phoenix area.

"Over the course of this trial, we'll be accepting hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and transportation needs who want to ride in and give feedback about Waymo“s self-driving cars," said Waymo chief executive John Krafcik.

"Rather than offering people one or two rides, the goal of this program is to give participants access to our fleet every day, at any time, to go anywhere within an area that's about twice the size of San Francisco."

Krafcik waid Waymo is adding 500 hybrid minivans to its Arizona fleet -- which began with 100 vehicles -- as part of the trial, as the group edges toward a ridesharing system similar to those offered by Uber, Lyft and others.

"We want as many people as possible to experience our technology, and we want to bring self-driving cars to more communities sooner," he said.

"Our early riders will play an important role in shaping the way we bring self-driving technology into the world -- through personal cars, public transportation, ride-hailing, logistics and more."

The tech giant has done extensive testing of the Google car, but in recent months has been working to adapt its software to operate on other vehicles -- using Chrysler Pacifica cars in Arizona.

Waymo said it has been conducting a small-scale trial over the past month in the Phoenix area, taking participants to work, school, soccer practices and other activities.