Listen to this article
Waymo, the autonomous driving technology company under Google parent company Alphabet, launched a limited robotaxi service in San Francisco that is open to select riders. The Waymo One Trusted Tester program “is a research-focused program” that allows San Franciscans to take an autonomous ride in a Waymo all-electric Jaguar I-PACE vehicle.
Although this program just started in San Francisco, it appears to be similar to how Waymo conducted itself in the Phoenix metro area. It started giving select riders around Phoenix autonomous rides in 2017 with the Early Rider Program. It then launched its public robotaxi service in late 2020.
Waymo said the Trusted Tester program is open to all interested San Franciscans. Waymo isn’t sharing how many riders will be included in this test group or how many Jaguars are in the fleeting carrying passengers. To sign up for the program, download the Waymo One app from the iOS or Android app stores. Passengers have to sign a non-disclosure agreement that’ll prevent them from sharing details about their experience publicly.
The cars are equipped with Waymo’s fifth generation autonomous driving system. The rides are currently free and will be offered 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The initial service area includes parts of San Francisco, including the Sunset, Richmond, Pac Heights, Noe, the Castro, Haight Ashbury and more. Waymo said the service area will expand over time.
All rides in this program will have a human safety driver on board.
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.
According to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles annual Disengagement Report, Waymo and Cruise are the leaders in the clubhouse. 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.
In February 2021, Waymo launched limited testing in San Francisco using its employees as the passengers. And in July 2021, it opened an office in Pittsburgh, joining a group of competitors already based in the Steel City. The company said at the time that there are no plans to deploy robotaxis in Pittsburgh, but that “the new team will work on motion planning development, real-time route planning and developing [the autonomous vehicle technology] Driver.”
A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle supposedly became the first journalist in San Francisco to ride in one of Waymo’s robotaxis. She documented the 15-minute ride and said, “Not once during the ride did I feel unsafe.”
She added, “with its robust safety protocols, including specific COVID-era cleaning tools like Air Flush, which cleanses the inside of the vehicle, I’d feel confident Waymo could get me from point A to point B safely. And with Uber and Lyft prices through the roof in San Francisco and beyond, it’s a nice alternative to traverse short distances.”