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Waymo is Now Picking Up Riders in its Self-Driving Robotaxis in San Francisco

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【Summary】Alphabet’s autonomous driving division Waymo, which spun out of Google’s self-driving car project, has launched its commercial robotaxi service in San Francisco for a select group of early testers. The company was approved to begin picking up passengers in its driverless vehicles for the first time in the city after extensively testing its technology using safety drivers behind the wheel.

Eric Walz    Aug 24, 2021 10:00 AM PT
Waymo is Now Picking Up Riders in its Self-Driving Robotaxis in San Francisco
Waymo’s first robotaxi passengers in San Francisco are part of the company’s Trusted Tester Program.

Alphabet's autonomous driving division Waymo, which spun out of Google's self-driving car project, has launched its commercial robotaxi service in San Francisco for a select group of early testers. 

The company was approved to begin picking up passengers in its driverless vehicles for the first time, after extensively testing using safety drivers behind the wheel.

Waymo's first passengers are part of the company's "Trusted Tester Program."

Waymo's Trusted Tester pilot is a research-focused program that will invite residents of San Francisco to participate and help Waymo shape the future of fully autonomous ride-hailing. Waymo takes valuable feedback from its trusted testers to continuously improve its service. 

Prior to opening Waymo One to its trusted testers, the company was picking up its employees in the city.

For Waymo is sort of a homecoming. The company has been testing its self-driving vehicles in the city for over twelve years and has accumulated more autonomous driving miles in California than anyone in the industry. Waymo's fleet of self-driving vehicles have traveled over 20 million miles on public roads in the U.S.

Waymo has further refined its technology by driving billions of miles in computer simulation with data collected from real world driving situations its vehicle's encounter, so the Waymo software is able to handle just about anything, while offering the highest level of safety.

Waymo's autonomous ride-hailing service is called "Waymo One" and its similar to Uber, Lyft and other providers. Waymo has a smartphone app where customers can summon one of its self-driving vehicles.

Beginning later today, San Francisco residents can sign up for the Trusted Tester program by downloading the Waymo One app and signing up.

The experience of riding in one of Waymo's autonomous vehicles is just like taking a trip with Uber. Riders can summon one of Waymo's fully-electric Jaguar I-Pace SUVs using the Waymo One app. Once seated and bucked up, riders press the trip start button to begin their trip. 

A monitor in the backseat of each vehicle shows the vehicle's perception systems in real time and riders get an expanded look at what the self-driving vehicle "sees" as it navigates autonomously in the city.

Riders also have a pull over button in case a passenger needs to cut their trip short. If a rider hits the button the Waymo vehicles will pull over in a safe location and let them out.

For now, Waymo's vehicle will have safety drivers behind the wheel to monitor the operation and intervene if necessary. Once the safety drivers are removed, Waymo's autonomous vehicles will be monitored by remote teleoperators that can connect to the vehicle over a cellular network and take over control if necessary. 

The teleoperators can view a live feed of the vehicle's cameras as if they were sitting behind the wheel. The remote operators can take control of steering and braking to get out of any jams that the vehicle's software cannot handle, such as a stalled vehicle blocking a lane or an unexpected road closure due to construction.

As Waymo scales its operations, having a human backup may help to ease any anxiety for passengers that don't fully trust autonomous vehicles yet.

Waymo's autonomous vehicles can safely operate around pedestrians, bicyclists and just about everything else encountered while driving in a major city such as San Francisco.

Prior to launching the Waymo One service in San Francisco, the company has been testing technology in Arizona in the Phoenix Metro Area since 2016, mapping streets and testing its autonomous technology.

Waymo is also working on self-driving Class-8 trucks in a separate service called Waymo Via.

Eventually Waymo plans to launch its autonomous ride-hailing service in other major cities. But a successful launch in San Francisco will give the company valuable experience, as the city's hilly terrain is one of the most difficult and challenging environments for a self-driving vehicle to operate in.

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