Waymo hits San Francisco roads with fully driverless cars

31 Mar 2022

Waymo's autonomously driven Jaguar I-PACE electric SUV. Image: Waymo

Waymo employees in San Francisco are taking part in tests of the driverless cars as the company also eyes expansion in Arizona.

Alphabet-owned autonomous vehicle company Waymo announced yesterday (30 March) that it has started offering fully driverless car rides to its employees in San Francisco.

With no human driver behind the wheel, the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace cars will pick up Waymo employees. While the company has tested its self-driving technology in Mountain View and San Francisco before, it said the removing the human driver marks a “significant milestone”.

Future Human

“We’re particularly excited about this next phase of our journey as we officially bring our rider-only technology to San Francisco – the city many of us at Waymo call home,” said co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana.

It is not the first time Waymo has offered fully driverless cars in a major city in the US. It has been operating a driverless service to the public in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, for more than a year and now serves hundreds of rides weekly.

In San Francisco, the company has been operating a Trusted Testers programme with selected customers in recent months – but the cars came with safety drivers on board.

“We’ve learned so much from our San Francisco Trusted Testers over the last six months, not to mention the innumerable lessons from our riders in the years since launching our fully autonomous service in the East Valley of Phoenix,” added Mawakana.

Competition and expansion

The city streets have become a battleground for Waymo and other players such as General Motors-owned Cruise to assert their dominance in the autonomous vehicles space.

Cruise already offers driverless rides to employees and the public in San Francisco free of charge and, according to Reuters, is now seeking a license to commercialise the service.

Waymo, which currently has a permit for testing driverless cars in San Francisco, also needs a permit from the state of California to commercialise its service without a driver on board.

The company is meanwhile expanding its services in downtown Phoenix, where it will soon launch the driverless technology now only available in the outskirts of the city. Waymo employees will be able to ride in the autonomous cars with safety drivers on board – with the aim to then open up the service to the public through the Trusted Testers programme.

“Building a safe, robust and generalisable autonomous driver – the Waymo Driver – whose capabilities and performance transfer well between geographies and product lines is our main focus,” said Dmitri Dolgov, Waymo co-CEO.

“Our experience in San Francisco and Phoenix’s East Valley, grounded in millions of miles of real-world driving and boosted by billions of miles driven in simulation, is already guiding our progress in downtown Phoenix and sets us up for future expansion of our fully autonomous ride-hailing service,” he added.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic