Reporter’s driverless van ride: Cool tech, freaky turns


CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) — The annoyed shopper paced around and knocked on the windows of a minivan blocking him from leaving his Costco parking spot. He didn’t seem to notice, or care, that there was no one inside.

A colleague and I had called for the Waymo ride — our first in a fully driverless vehicle — and quickly encountered a hiccup: figuring out how to tell it to meet us at the curb.


We ended up spotting the minivan across the bustling parking lot, and hurried over. As we pulled away, the shopper raised his arm and extended his middle finger.

Welcome to the United States’ first large-scale ride-hailing service with no backup drivers, which Waymo recently launched in suburban Phoenix.

An AP photographer and I took it for a spin and discovered some impressive technology. Waymo’s minivans skillfully adhere to traffic laws and can detect people, vehicles and objects from several hundred yards away.


But amid the advances lurk challenges that developers face as they race to bring autonomous cars to the masses: adapting the machinery to human behavior — and getting passengers to feel at ease without a person behind the wheel.

“The technology is great, but the experience isn’t there yet,” said Andrew Maynard, a professor at Arizona State University’s College of Global Futures who studies the social and ethical aspects of autonomous vehicles and other emerging technologies.

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