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Waymo has announced that Austin will be the next city it will roll its autonomous vehicles (AVs) out in. This makes Austin Waymo’s fourth major ride-hail city, joining Metro Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
Waymo’s team has spent the last few months testing its Waymo One system in and around downtown Austin to reacquaint the company’s generalizable driver with the city. The system runs on all-electric Jaguar I-PACE vehicles.
Now that the team has finished successful early testing, the company will begin an initial phase of operations in the fall. Waymo aims for its vehicles to quickly be a utility for the Austin public, with the ability to travel a large portion of the city night and day,
To start, the Waymo Driver will be able to travel to many popular locations, like the heart of downtown, Barton Hills, Riverside, East Austin, Hyde Park, and more.
“Austin is one of the most vibrant and dynamic cities in the country, and we’ve found that the Waymo Driver is adapting to its complex cityscape incredibly quickly,” Saswat Panigrahi, Chief Product Officer at Waymo, said. “Autonomous vehicles make transportation safer, greener and more accessible, and we can’t wait for Austinites to experience these benefits for themselves.”
Just last week, Waymo announced that it would be pumping the brakes on its self-driving truck initiative and focusing its efforts and investments on its autonomous ride-hailing service. This will involve pushing back the timeline of its commercial and operational trucking efforts.
Waymo’s ride-hailing service has been growing rapidly. In May of this year, Waymo announced its robotaxis would be available to hail through the Uber app, and earlier that month it doubled its service area in Phoenix and San Francisco.
Austin is the second-fastest-growing major city economy in the US, so it presents Waymo with significant opportunities for commercial growth. The company has worked closely with accessibility advocates to tailor its system to better fit traditionally underserved groups, like the blind.
“One of the greatest access barriers for individuals who are blind is the reliance on others for transportation,” Emily Coleman, Superintendent, of Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said. “Whether it’s work, leisure or family obligations, they require support to get around — a luxury many of us take for granted. Providing access to autonomous vehicles gives them the ability to be independent travelers and feel empowered to seek out the lives they want without the obligation to trust strangers.”
Waymo has also taken measures to better communicate with and protect vulnerable road users, like pedestrians and cyclists. These measures include reducing “dooring” incidents with cyclists with its Safe Exit features, which help to inform riders of anyone outside of the vehicle before opening the door.