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Waymo announced a couple of weeks ago it wouldn’t be expanding its robotaxi service in Arizona any time soon. I took that as a sign of Waymo gearing up to start testing in a new city – San Francisco, perhaps.
Today, Waymo announced just that. It has begun limited testing in San Francisco, marking its first expansion of its robotaxi service outside of Arizona. Of course, the Alphabet subsidiary is proceeding cautiously and is using employee volunteers to gather feedback about the technology’s performance. Employees in San Francisco will use the Waymo One app to hail rides.
“We’re beginning with a limited number of cars and riders and will scale over time. These rides are being offered with a single-vehicle operator,” a Waymo spokesperson told VentureBeat. “The initial program starts this week and will last for several, but we plan to grow it over time. We don’t have any specific timelines to share about when (or where) we’ll be offering a public service. It’s worth bearing in mind this is for early product testing and continuous improvement, and there are many further steps we’d need to go through … before we could deploy a service to the public.”
Of course, San Francisco is also home to Cruise, the autonomous vehicle company owned by GM. Cruise has been testing in San Francisco for years, often saying the city’s difficult driving environment gives it a leg up on its competition. Now robotaxis from both Cruise and Waymo will be spotted in the city.
Waymo and Cruise were the leaders in the clubhouse according to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles annual Disengagement Report that came out earlier this month. The report captured the number of times a human driver takes over control of an autonomous driving system being tested on the state’s public roads between December 2019 to November 2020.
Waymo and Cruise took the top two spots in terms of number of miles driven between disengagements (Waymo – 29,944.69; Cruise – 28,520.34) and total miles driven. Cruise drove more than 770,000 miles last year to overtake Waymo, which drove just under 629,000 miles in 2020 after logging more than 1.4 million miles in California in 2019.
To its credit, Cruise is sending its first self-driving test vehicles to Japan at some point in 2021. Details about where, when and how many are unknown at this point. But this will be the first time Cruise deploys its vehicles internationally.
Waymo said its story actually starts in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Since early 2009, when we completed our first 1,000 autonomous miles across California, we’ve driven the length and breadth of the region, becoming intimately familiar with the many unique challenges of driving in San Francisco and the surrounding area.”