Self-driving cars just got a little closer to going mainstream after Alphabet-owned autonomous vehicle company Waymo announced yesterday (30 March) that it has started offering fully driverless cars 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 to “get their morning coffee and go to work”, marking the first time the company has hit the roads with its fully driverless technology in the tech capital of the world.
“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.
This is not the first time Waymo has offered fully driverless cars in a major city in the US. Last year, it launched its Waymo One service in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona – where it is headquartered – which has seen success in making the technology a part of the daily lives of thousands of people.
In San Francisco, the company has been operating a Trusted Testers program for the last six months. It has also been offering free autonomous rides to a number of people in the city since last August – 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 battlegrounds for Waymo and 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 commercialize 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 commercialize its service.
The company is also expanding its services in Phoenix, where it will soon launch its driverless technology now only available in the outskirts of the city. Waymo employees will be able to commute using autonomous cars with safety drivers on board – with the aim to open up the service to the public.
“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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