Waymo is beginning to operate electric Jaguar I-PACE SUVs in San Francisco with no human safety driver at the wheel.
Waymo, the first self-driving company to launch a US robotaxi service, said it’s shifting to fully autonomous vehicle operation in San Francisco and expanding the service area where its Arizona robotaxi fleet operates into downtown Phoenix.
The Alphabet Inc. unit, which began testing Jaguar I-PACE electric SUVs loaded up with cameras, laser lidar sensors, radar and computers in San Francisco in 2020, said it’s operating some of those vehicles without a human backup driver behind the wheel. For now, they’ll only be hauling Waymo employees, rather than paying customers. Cruise, backed by General Motors, is starting to offer paid autonomous rides to commuters in San Francisco, although Waymo claims it’s the first company to have robotaxi services in more than one location.
“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,” co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana said in a blog post. “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. Both of which have directly impacted how we bring forward our service as we welcome our first employee riders in SF.”
The arrival of autonomous ride services in a dense, urban environment like San Francisco is a big accomplishment for a technology that’s proven to be more complex and challenging to perfect than anticipated a few years ago, despite billions of dollars of investment and, in Waymo’s case , more than a decade of R&D. Along with Cruise, Amazon’s Zoox unit is also preparing to launch a San Francisco-based robotic ride service. Competitors including Argo AI, backed by Ford and Volkswagen, and Motional, supported by Hyundai Motor and Aptiv, have plans for their own autonomous ride services in Miami and Las Vegas, respectively.
In addition to its robotaxi program, Waymo is starting to deploy autonomous semi-trucks, initially in Texas, and has been lining up customers and truck builders for what some analysts think could be a compelling business owing to rising demand for freight and a shortage of long-haul truck drivers.
Waymo began giving test rides in autonomous minivans in suburban Phoenix in 2017, and introduced fully autonomous rides in 2020, limiting the service area to East Valley communities including Chandler and Tempe. The company is planning to make the service available in downtown Phoenix as well though just like in San Francisco, initially, only Waymo employees will be getting rides in that part of the city.
“It’s not a matter of validating your technology for certain streets, but deploying a confident Waymo Driver that is prepared to handle what could happen on that type of street anywhere,” Dmitri Dolgov, also Waymo co-CEO, said in the post. ” Just as our learnings from Phoenix’s East Valley transferred to San Francisco, our learnings from San Francisco are already informing our progress in downtown Phoenix.”
Though it’s been generating revenue for a few years, Waymo hasn’t yet disclosed that information or said when it expects to become profitable.