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Waymo’s self-driving taxi struggles with left turns and puddles. But it’s still winning over some Arizona riders

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CNN Business tested the Waymo service this month and spoke with eight Waymo customers who have used the service over the past year. They say they are generally very satisfied and prefer it to Uber, Lyft or owning a car. Their stories suggest that there is demand for robotaxis, but there are also significant barriers to autonomous cars becoming a key pillar of American life soon.

A pilot can request a trip through the Waymo app and is directed to walk to a pick-up point where the robotaxi can be safely stopped to pick them up. A Waymo Chrysler Pacifica minivan stretches and shows the drivers ’initials on the control panel so it can’t be confused with another Waymo van.

“Good afternoon,” a recording greets the pilots as they enter. “This car is yours all over the world with no one in front of it.”

The vans still have a steering wheel that turns right and left as the car navigates. A piece of plastic separates the front passenger seats from the rear, where the pilots are supposed to be housed. The riders press a button to start the journey.

Trips are generally longer and less direct than Uber or Lyft trips. Taxis still they do not use shared turns, the company said. This forces them to sometimes make roundabout routes, such as three turns to the right instead of one turn to the left.

Waymo says its vehicles have traveled more than 20 million autonomous miles on public roads, but rainy days and puddles that are then left on the roads can still suffer confuse enough the robotaxis that Waymo has to go back to an older and less impressive version of his robotaxis, with a human test pilot at the wheel.

The robotaxi service in Arizona is the culmination of twelve years of work since Google created its autonomous car project, which was later renamed Waymo, and became an independent subsidiary of Alphabet. The project began with great ambitions and promises. Google co-founder Sergey Brin he said in 2012 that “one can count on the one hand the number of years until normal people can experience this.”

The reality has been different. After years of promise, Waymo offers a robotaxi service to a 50-square-mile portion of Chandler, Arizona, and has yet to offer fully autonomous travel to the public anywhere else.

There are advantages in a computer that drives the car over a human being, customers say. Some like to go alone, instead of being driven by a stranger. Waymo prices can be cheaper and all vehicles drive with the same prudent personality, unlike racing drivers, whose driving styles vary, drivers say.

They say they have seen Waymo improve. Two pilots said yes experienced a sudden braking in the Waymo taxis that it looked like birds near the car, as there were no other vehicles around. But the two drivers said the cars no longer brake sharply near birds. Waymo declined to comment on the pilots ’experiences with a sudden braking around the birds. According to drivers, Waymo vans are also more confident when driving in crowded parking lots.

But a lot of work roman To do. Waymo remains focused on learning how to improve its services, rather than making it profitable, according to Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana.

Waymo signed a deal in 2018 with Fiat Chrysler to add 62,000 Pacifica hybrids to its fleet. Three years later, the fleet remains only slightly more than 700 vehicles. Former CEO John Krafcik, who led the deal, left the paper earlier this year.

Three right turns left

John Mitkowski, a resident of Chandler, gave his car to his college-aged daughter after Waymo began offering rides. He thought he could use a combination of Waymo, Uber and Lyft to get around. He drives Waymo to work, recharge, and go golf, and calls it his favorite mode of transportation.

He has made more than 400 trips, more than anyone using the service, according to Waymo, who presented CNN Business to Mitkowski.

He told CNN Business he will only use Lyft or Uber today if Waymo has no cars available. Arrange your schedule to be a bit flexible in case a Waymo car is immediately available or unavailable for 15 minutes.

He works on his laptop while traveling, so does he I don’t care if they are a little longer than in an Uber or Lyft. He said he saves money with Waymo because there is no need to tip a robotaxi. Riders told CNN Business that Waymo’s prices were generally comparable to Uber and Lyft.

Waymo pilots said they regularly draw the attention of people who come to them with questions after leaving them or try to record trips while driving alongside Waymos.

“In the corner of my eye, I will notice a car moving irregularly. I will look up from my laptop and say, ‘What are you doing?’ “My car might try to make a right, but the boy doesn’t see it because he’s trying to tax me and the non-driver of the car,” Mitkowski said.

Waymo vehicles avoid making a left turn from a busy street toward their neighborhood. Mitkowski said they would instead take a slight detour to a neighborhood across the busy street so they can cross the busy street with a traffic sign.

“The object of his game seems to be the safest route,” Mitkowski said. “How do we not endanger the driver, the car and the passenger?”

Waymo driver Sophia Lovasz told CNN Business that a recent trip that used to be a 10-minute drive took her 27 minutes with Waymo.

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“If you had somewhere at a particular time, you might not want to call a Waymo,” Lovasz said.

Still, Lovasz said she was a very satisfied Waymo customer and considers it a second best car for her family. He said he prefers it to Uber and Lyft and feels more independent.

Lovasz made his first trip this April, requesting a walk to the public library in Tempe, which is next to Chandler. Lovasz said Waymo asked him to cross a seven-lane road and wait on a residential street in front of the library to be picked up.

Lovasz crossed the street and entered the neighborhood, waiting for a narrow halfway as the sun set, he said.

“She was a little uncomfortable as a black woman standing in the middle of a neighborhood where no one had seen me before. I felt very uncomfortable,” Lovasz said.

Since then, Waymo has updated its service so that pilots can be picked up directly at the library. A CNN Business reporter requested a trip to the library last week. After a 15-minute wait, a Waymo van appeared about to turn into the library.

Instead, he passed the library, turned around, passed again instead of making a left turn toward the library, and then made a tricky 15-minute route before ‘finally enter the library.

A Waymo spokeswoman explained that the Waymo van seemed unable to change lanes to get into the right lane and make its initial turn towards the library. After bending over, the Waymo van did not turn left at the library because its vehicles did not use shared turns. The spokeswoman said these turns are complicated because local legislation requires units to get out of the lane a few hundred meters away, which can lead to tight turns.

Still, Chandler is well-suited for driving cars in many ways, according to autonomous vehicle experts.

There is little inclement weather, which is a challenge for cars with automatic driving. Waymo has human test drivers behind the wheel on rainy days and often afterwards. The light that reflects the puddles can make it difficult for vehicles to drive.

Waymo pilots can press the buttons on the cab of the van to begin and end their journey.

Another advantage of Chandler is the lack of pedestrians and cyclists. CNN Business encountered a single cyclist and no pedestrians, apart from a Whole Foods parking lot, during its two attractions,

Drivers told CNN Business that they had seen Waymo vehicles appear safer and safer in parking lots, where vehicles have to deal with pedestrian crossings and vehicles receding. But there are still problems that sometimes arise.

Rajan Phadnis said that when he was dropped into a Walmart recently, the vehicle stopped so that he would park in a driver’s seat on the lot. Phadnis said the driver of the vehicle yelled at him, making him feel uncomfortable as he could not control and move the Waymo vehicle.

He contacted Waymo support and said that after a couple of minutes the Waymo vehicle withdrew from the road.

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