Waymo, the autonomous vehicle division of Alphabet, has started its first driverless tests in San Francisco and it has released the first video of the rides in its autonomous vehicles.
The company, which was recently approved to begin charging for robotaxi rides in the city alongside Cruise Automation, is now testing fully autonomous driving technology in three cities, including two locations in Phoenix, Arizona.
Waymo claims it is the first time any company is simultaneously running fully autonomous ride-hailing operations in multiple cities.
Removing the human driver from its autonomous vehicles is a big step toward commercializing driverless ride hailing. After the company first started testing the driverless technology in Phoenix as part of its Early Rider Program, Waymo began offering fully autonomous public rides in 2020 in Phoenix.
Soon, Waymo said it will expand its Arizona driverless program from the East Valley of Phoenix to downtown. There, the rides will feature a Waymo safety employee, but eventually those rides will be offered to the public without a safety employee in tow.
“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 Tekedra Mawakana, co-CEO of Waymo. “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. Both of which have directly impacted how we bring forward our service as we welcome our first employee riders in SF.”
The goal is to not just test fully driverless ride hailing services but to also gather data on how these vehicles perform in real world, real street situations. Additionally, Waymo is gathering data from riders about their experiences, what could be done better and where potential issues may arise from human riders without any other human interaction.
In the video, a split screen is shown of the car traveling on San Francisco streets alongside a view of what the onboard sensors — lidar, radar, GPS — are recording in real time. The vehicle, which is an all-electric Jaguar I-PACE, is seen avoiding other vehicles, making turns on busy streets and identifying pedestrians and other hazards along its journey.