Waymo Opens Self-Driving Taxi Testing In San Francisco

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Alphabet’s self-driving car division Waymo expands its testing program for its self-driving taxis to some San Francisco residents

Waymo’s commercial driverless taxi service has been offering rides in parts of Phoenix, Arizona for nearly a year.

But now Waymo has opened up its driverless ride hailing service to selected residents in the California city of San Francisco.

The firm is seeking feedback from local residents before a broader expected rollout in the city. A video of the San Francisco service can be found here.

San Francisco

Waymo announced the San Francisco trial in a blog post on Tuesday.

“Today, we’re excited to share the next step in our journey in the City by the Bay, with the kickoff of our Waymo One Trusted Tester program,” the firm stated.

It revealed that its Trusted Tester scheme is a research-focused program that will invite San Franciscans to actively help the firm shape the future of fully autonomous ride-hailing.

“We’ve been driving in the city for over twelve years, have accumulated more autonomous driving miles in California than anyone in the industry, and began ramping up our testing by offering autonomous rides to our employees in San Francisco earlier this year,” it said.

Those residents taking part in the scheme will be able to hail an autonomous ride in one of Waymo’s all-electric Jaguar I-PACE vehicles equipped with the fifth-generation Waymo Driver.

“While this is a first for San Francisco, it is a familiar step for Waymo,” it said. “Over the past four years in Metro Phoenix, we’ve gone from welcoming our first riders in 2017 with an autonomous specialist on board, to launching the first public, fully autonomous ride hailing service. Since October 2020, we’ve served tens of thousands of fully autonomous rides, and through our years of experience, have refined our incremental approach guided by our safety framework and rider feedback.”

Truster Tester

However, at the moment, all rides in the program will have an autonomous specialist on board.

“Through the Trusted Tester program, we’ll help San Francisco residents expand their mobility options while complementing the city’s robust public transportation infrastructure,” said Waymo.

“We’re committed to ensuring that our ride-hailing service is accessible for people with disabilities, both in our autonomous vehicles and in rides provided through our local wheelchair accessible vehicle partner.”

“Our commitment to the city of San Francisco extends beyond Waymo One, as we are dedicated to serving the community through civic engagement and public education efforts in the Bay Area, as we work with key city stakeholders to bring awareness to the societal benefits of autonomous driving technology,” it concluded.

Some Issues

Waymo had to shut down all its ride-hailing services in Arizona in early 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but began offering rides again as of 8 October 2020.

This came after the firm fitted its cars with barriers between the driver and passenger area as a safety barrier. Backup drivers are still used in expanded routes in Phoenix.

The fully driverless taxi option is limited to a mostly residential area that includes the Phoenix suburbs of Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe.

In May this year a Waymo taxi in Phoenix with no backup safety driver suffered a high profile incident when the car got confused and halted when it encountered a coned-off road.

And to make matters worse, when roadside assistance was dispatched, the confused Waymo vehicle drove off.

The Waymo vehicle eventually became stuck farther down the road, which was lined with construction cones, allowing the Waymo assistance driver to take over.

Additional funding

Waymo’s intention for years has been to offer a commercial fully driverless ride-hailing service to the general public.

It has also been driving in San Francisco and the Bay Area since it first started in 2009.

In June Waymo raised an additional $2.5 billion funding round that it said would be used to develop its autonomous driving technology as well as expanding its team.

CNBC however has reported that some Waymo employees have grown frustrated with the company’s slow pace of expansion.

Indeed, several members of Waymo staff departed in the last several months, including its former CEO.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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