Portland News

Waymo Launches Autonomous Rides in San Francisco

Photo: Reuters

On Wednesday, Alphabet, Inc. unit Waymo said that it has started offering driverless rides to employees in San Francisco. This accelerates a race with General Motors Co.-backed rival Cruise in commercializing technology in the city.

Waymo also introduced driverless rides to Phoenix-based employees with safety drivers behind the wheel. Next, they aim to open it for public testing.

“Operating fully autonomously in multiple markets — in addition to Waymo’s growing trucking operations — is a critical validator of the scalability of Waymo’s operations and technology,” it said in a statement.

Waymo started the first US driverless taxi service in 2020, more than ten years since the company was started as a project inside Google in 2008. However, Waymo’s services have not expanded beyond suburban Phoenix areas covering about 50 square miles (129.5 square kilometers), although Waymo gives paid rides to hundreds of people a week using Chrysler minivans.

In August, free autonomous rides were rolled out to a limited number of people in San Francisco using its Jaguar electric vehicles equipped with sensors such as spinning lidars and safety drivers on board.

Waymo needs two more permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to begin charging for the autonomous rides in San Francisco.

Waymo declined to comment on whether it had applied for the permits.

On the other hand, Cruise is giving fully driverless rides to employees and the public free of charge in San Francisco. In addition, the company is seeking CPUC approval for commercial driverless service, intending to get permitted this year.

Self-driving technology firms, which have attracted billions of dollars of investments, face challenges scaling up their technology after missing their earlier targets to launch commercial services.

Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.