It sure looks like Waymo is getting ready to launch in Phoenix


Enlarge / One of the earliest families in Waymo’s public trial in Phoenix poses with a Waymo minivan.

Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, is laying the political groundwork to launch a truly driverless car service. On Monday, the company announced a new partnership with several non-profit organizations.

Called “Let’s Talk Self-Driving,” the partnership aims to persuade Americans—and especially people in the Greater Phoenix area—of the benefits of self-driving cars. “We’re starting this campaign with a series of digital, outdoor, and radio advertising in Arizona,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik says in a blog post announcing the campaign.

Companies run ads promoting their products all the time, so on its own this isn’t very surprising. But two things stand out about the Waymo campaign.

First, the decision to launch these ads in Arizona seems to confirm reporting by The Information that Waymo was hoping to launch a commercial driverless car service in the Greater Phoenix area before the end of the year. We don’t know if Waymo will meet that self-imposed deadline, but the decision to run these ads certainly suggests that Waymo is expecting to expand its presence in the Phoenix metro area in the coming months.

Second, Waymo has lined up an impressive list of sponsors, and the sponsor list doubles as a bullet-point summary of Waymo’s case for self-driving technology:

  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving is on board, reinforcing Waymo’s argument that self-driving taxis could dramatically reduce the incidence of drunk driving deaths.
  • The National Safety Council, a 104-year-old safety group, supports the campaign, highlighting the technology’s potential to reduce roadway deaths.
  • The Foundation for Senior Living is an Arizona-based organization that provides care to elderly adults. The organization is supporting the campaign because self-driving cars could allow seniors to maintain their independence as they become too old to drive.
  • Support from the Foundation for Blind Children highlights the potential for self-driving cars to give blind people greater independence.
  • The East Valley Partnership is a civic organization in the Greater Phoenix area. Waymo will undoubtedly argue that self-driving cars will be a boon to the Phoenix metropolitan area.

You can see Waymo methodically building a political case to begin offering a driverless car service in the Greater Phoenix area. A big worry for Waymo is a public backlash due to safety concerns or worries about job losses. This campaign is part of Waymo’s effort to preempt that criticism by emphasizing that self-driving cars could offer big benefits beyond providing convenient and affordable transportation.

And the public reception in Phoenix will be significant, because, if self-driving cars launch there first, the rest of the United States—and the world—will be paying close attention.

Disclosure: My brother works at Google.



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