Waymo Gains CPUC Approval For San Francisco Taxi Service

California regulators approve Waymo for San Francisco robo taxi service, as a new self-driving car is unveiled with no steering wheel

Alphabet’s Waymo has been approved to offer San Francisco residents a robo taxi service, and it has also unveiled a brand new vehicle.

Last week the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) announced that it had “authorised Waymo LLC to participate in California’s pilot program to provide “driverless” autonomous vehicle (AV) passenger service to the public.” This means that passengers can ride in a test AV that operates without a driver.

It comes after General Motors’ Cruise self-driving subsidiary in June this year secured the final permit needed for it to launch a commercial, robotaxi service in San Francisco.

Image credit: Cruise
Image credit: Cruise

San Francisco robo taxi

Until the CPUC decision last week, Waymo had offered free driverless rides to employees or members of a testing program in San Francisco.

Image credit: Waymo

Waymo joins Cruise as the second participant in CPUC’s Driverless Pilot program, noted the CPUC. It said the Driverless Pilot program is intended to allow AV companies to develop their technologies on a test basis, while providing for public safety and consumer protection in services offered by commercial operators within the CPUC’s jurisdiction.

“We are seeing momentum build in this space and are working to assure the safe expansion of the driverless pilot program,” said CPUC Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma.

With this authorisation, Waymo may offer driverless passenger service throughout San Francisco and portions of Daly City, as well as in portions of the cities of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale.

Waymo’s driverless test AVs may operate on public roadways with posted speed limits up to 65 miles per hour, at all times of day or night.

Waymo also just recently announced that it will expand its autonomous ride-hailing service to Los Angeles.

No steering wheel

Meanwhile Waymo also showed off a brand-new prototype vehicle made by Chinese carmaker Geely’s luxury Zeekr brand last week at an event in Los Angeles.

Geely owns a number of car brands including Volvo, Lotus, and Polestar.

Waymo posted this YouTube video about its new vehicle.

It should be remembered that from 2009, Google’s self-driving unit had started with a fleet of modified second-generation Toyota Priuses.

google driverless car toyota prius by Steve Jurvetson on Wikimedia

But of late Waymo largely used production vehicles such as the Jaguar i-Pace and Chrysler Pacifica, to shuttle passengers around cities like Phoenix and San Francisco.

Now Waymo has unveiled its second ground-up design. The first design was the Firefly, which was retired in 2017.

It also unveiled a Zoox vehicle in 2020 that could drive in either direction.

However the Waymo / Zeekr vehicle is called the Waymo One Zeekr and is a purpose-built, passenger-first autonomous vehicle that has no steering wheel.

Waymo One Zeekr looks similar to the Zeekr M-Vision (a van-like vehicle), which was announced by the company on the same day as the Waymo event.

Zeekr intends to have its Zeekr M ready for mass production by 2024, so it is safe to say that people may not see the Waymo One Zeekr on San Francisco streets any time soon.

This EV can apparently carry out 16 hours of continuous all-electric driving.

During the presentation, Waymo noted that the vehicle will be 30 percent more efficient than anything else on the street currently.

The Waymo One Zeekr boasts a pair of sliding doors that move forward and back to reveal a spacious interior with seats for five passengers. All the seats in the prototype face forward.

Waymo One Zeekr.
Image Credit: Waymo

It features a low floor that’s easy to step into, wide openings for the doors, and Braille for the visually impaired.

The main lidar system is roof mounted in a round module and includes the latest sensor suite, and around the vehicle are a number of smaller sensors attached to the front corners, rear, and front centre of the vehicle.

Besides having no steering wheel, the prototype also doesn’t have any wing mirrors or rear-view mirrors inside.