Early Riders interview with Saswat Panigrahi

Waymo is closer than any other company to making fully autonomous vehicles a real product, even as the industry is facing increased scrutiny.

Americans are more afraid of riding in self-driving cars this year than last year, according to recent AAA surveys, and Uber temporarily halted all of its self-driving tests after one of its cars hit and killed a passenger in Arizona in March.

After that accident, Waymo’s CEO said that its own technology would have prevented the crash and reiterated that safety is the company’s top priority.

Panigrahi emphasizes that its early rider tests in Arizona have proven how much time driverless cars can save for people who usually commute.

“Once the excitement of being in the car wears off, people realize how taxing driving actually is,” he says. Parents have reported feeling like they could focus more fully on their childrens’ stories while riding together and one woman discovered a neighborhood park that she’d driven past for years but never noticed.

But for ride-hailing services like Waymo’s, that time savings could come at the cost of a human driver’s job. In a Phoenix-specific Reddit thread about the service’s upcoming launch, many expressed hesitation about using it over Lyft or Uber, unless they saw a significant cost difference.

“I’m not going to take someone’s livelihood away and not save money,” one user wrote.

Besides Arizona, Waymo has also filed a permit for driverless testing in California.

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