Waymo’s Driverless Cars To Experience Ultimate Test At Super Bowl

  • Waymo’s driverless cars have been transporting passengers from Phoenix Airport since last year
  • Next month’s Super Bowl in Phoenix will be a huge coming-out party for Waymo’s driverless cars
  • The one hiccup—the Super Bowl venue in Phoenix is not in Waymo’s service area

Since late last year, Waymo’s fully driverless cars have been picking up passengers from Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport. The company announced that customers using the airport will now be able to hail a Waymo “rider only” vehicle, showing that the Alphabet company is willing to take on more risk as it seeks to bolster the case for a fully autonomous taxi service. 

And now, Phoenix will step up its autonomous car program a couple of notches. Next month’s Super Bowl in Phoenix will be a huge coming-out party for Waymo, whose driverless vehicles will transport fans from the airport to downtown venues.

The Super Bowl experience will be Waymo’s biggest test so far.

This is a significant development for many Super Bowl visitors as it will be their first opportunity to ride in a driverless car.

For Waymo, it’s an opportunity to stress-test its service during what will be one of the city’s busiest weekends of the year. It’s also a way to keep drunk drivers off the road on Super Bowl Sunday when officials typically see a spike in deadly crashes.

To generate some hype, Waymo is partnering with the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee to incorporate autonomous taxis into fan experiences the week before and during the Big Game.

Visitors (and locals) who download the Waymo app can summon the “Waymo Driver” in an autonomous Jaguar I-PACE to pick them up from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport via the 44th Street and Washington PHX Sky Train Station. They can also hail a robotaxi for rides in and around downtown.

There’s one hiccup though. The Super Bowl venue “State Farm Stadium” in Glendale, west of Phoenix, is not in Waymo’s service area, which means fans will need to find their own way to the game. Waymo has been operating its public robotaxis in Phoenix’s eastern suburbs since 2020 and recently expanded to include downtown and the airport.

Plus, Waymo won’t say how many robotaxis will be in service that week — more than usual, but you might have to wait if you really want a driverless car.

For Waymo though, this is a big deal. “There’s no bigger stage for our non-stop ride-hailing service than transporting people from all over the globe to and from the airport and around downtown for the many exciting activities surrounding the Big Game,” said Saswat Panigrahi, Waymo Chief Product Officer. “No waitlist, no NDAs, no hours restriction, 24/7 service.” 

But the business of operating a robotaxi service will remain difficult so long as there are restrictions to where the vehicles can drive. Human-driven services like Uber and Lyft have no such limitations. And customers can be fickle, and quick to switch to another service that promises shorter wait times and fewer limits on where they can travel. 

OUR THOUGHTS

It’s great to see Waymo pushing the limits of what’s currently possible with driverless cars—which are still only able to operate in heavily restricted areas. How they perform during the Super Bowl will ultimately affect the way that the public and authorities move forward with this technology. As an auto journalist though, I’ve driven countless autonomous test cars over the years, and while many of them handle highways and some uncongested local streets very well, for me at least, they still do not have the skill to drive as well as a human and have trouble seeing cars changing lanes and pushing in front of you at the last minute. If I had a buck for every time I’ve had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the car pushing in when driving in autonomous or adaptive cruise control mode, I’d be a rich lad.

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