Waymo is opening up its self-driving test rides to the public for the first time in a step toward making the technology available to ride-hailing companies.

Google parent company Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving vehicle unit opened up applications yesterday for those Phoenix-area residents interested in taking a ride in a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. This comes after eight years and about three million miles of road testing that Google has conducted with self-driving vehicles – and it’s the first time these rides will be open to the general public.

It’s also a future revenue source for Waymo, which has licensed its hardware and software for ride-hailing firms to offer autonomous rides. Waymo can recoup its investments and ride-hailing companies can cut out their most expensive operating cost, the human driver.

“I’d say our business model on this is TBD [to be determined], and the most important thing that’s going on here is learning more about how people would actually use such a service,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik told USA Today.

“It’s our first interaction with real people in our cars,” he said. “This is a big, big step for us.”

Ride-hailing giant Uber was the first company to go down this path last year by launching a self-driving vehicle test project that picked up passengers in the Pittsburgh area.

It’s expected to differ from Uber by having hundreds of passengers taking rides, and through Waymo’s practice of using ride data to study the technology’s needed improvements.

For now, the rides are free. Consumers interested in taking a ride need to fill out a Waymo online form to be considered.

It’s an opportunity for riders to think differently about the use of their vehicle and tapping into ride-hailing services. That could cover daily commutes, weekend sporting events, and other trips that make sense to tap into.

Participants will be “encouraged to rely on Waymo for all their transportation needs,” Krafcik said.

Phoenix was chosen to start this new phase of Waymo’s testing because it’s a market where consumers are very dependent on their cars, he said. While Arizona law allows for self-driving vehicles to be tested without a human driver at the wheel, Waymo will initially include one of its employees in the driver’s seat.

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Waymo has also been conducting test runs near the Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and in Austin and Kirkland, Wash.

The self-driving vehicle company will be sending all of its 600 self-driving Pacifica Hybrid plug-in hybrids to Phoenix for these rides. The first 100 of these vehicles was delivered by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles late last year; and a deal was just made to add 500 more.

The Google test fleet started years ago in the Toyota Prius. That was followed by Lexus SUVs equipped with radar, camera, and LiDAR sensors. Google launched its own customized two-person test cars in 2015.

Waymo’s self-driving technology has become the focus of a legal battle with Uber. The Alphabet subsidiary claims that the LiDAR being used in Uber’s Otto self-driving truck was stolen from Google through the Otto founder who had been working for Google at the time.

USA Today