Waymo Opens its Fully-Autonomous Ride Hailing Service to Employees in San Francisco Without Safety Drivers Onboard

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【Summary】​Alphabet Inc’s autonomous driving division Waymo opened up its autonomous ride-hailing service called “Waymo One” to its employees in San Francisco. The Waymo vehicles picking up employees will be “fully-autonomous”, meaning that no safety drivers will be behind the wheel.

Eric Walz    May 06, 2022 11:25 AM PT
Waymo Opens its Fully-Autonomous Ride Hailing Service to Employees in San Francisco Without Safety Drivers Onboard
A fully-autonomous Waymo Jaguar I Pace SUV in San Francisco without a safety driver onboard.

Alphabet Inc's autonomous driving division Waymo opened up its autonomous ride-hailing service called "Waymo One" to its employees in San Francisco. The Waymo vehicles picking up employees will be "fully-autonomous", meaning that no safety drivers will be behind the wheel. 

Waymo's driverless fleet is made up of Jaguar I Pace electric SUVs outfitted with technology for autonomous operation.

In Sept 2021, Waymo received one of the two regulatory permits to offer autonomous rides to passengers in California. Before the permit was issued, Waymo could operate its driverless ride-hailing service in the city for testing purposes only. 

On March 1, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued "Drivered Deployment" permit to Waymo and its rival Cruise that allows the two companies to collect fares for passenger service in autonomous vehicles (AVs) as long as there is a safety driver behind the wheel.

The permit paves the way for an eventual commercial robotaxi launch of the Waymo One ride-hailing service in San Francisco without any safety drivers on board. Since the Waymo employee trips won't collect fares, the newly issued permit allows the vehicles to be fully-autonomous without safety drivers onboard.

The experience of riding in one of Waymo's autonomous vehicles is just like taking a trip with Uber. Riders summon one of Waymo's Jaguar I-Pace SUVs using the Waymo One app. Once the vehicle arrives and the passengers are seated and bucked up, they simply press the trip start button on a touchscreen display to begin their trip. 

A monitor in the backseat of each vehicle also 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 using cameras, radar and lidar.

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

"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 co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana. "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."

Waymo has been testing its autonomous driving technology in Phoenix, Arizona for the past several years in preparation for the launch of Waymo One in San Francisco.

Waymo launched an "Early Rider Program" back in 2017 in Arizona, which invited a select group of people to hail one of Waymo's self-driving vehicles and provide feedback on the experience. The vehicles in Arizona had safety drivers behind the wheel until 2020 after Waymo began offering fully-autonomous public rides. Waymo siad it completed hundreds of rides weekly without safety drivers on board. 

Waymo's autonomous launch in San Francisco marks the first time that any company simultaneously operated a fully autonomous ride-hailing operation in multiple cities.

The testing in Arizona is now moving to the Downtown Phoenix area with Waymo employees hailing rides with autonomous specialists behind the wheel. But the company's goal is to open up to members of the public via its Trusted Tester program soon after.

In San Francisco, Waymo created a waitlist for people wanting to hail a ride in one of its fully-driverless vehicles. In December, Mawakana said that "tens of thousands" of city residents are currently on the waitlist

Waymo is widely considered to be the industry leader in the development and deployment of autonomous driving technology. The company has extensive experience as Waymo spun out of Google's self-driving car project, which began work on self-driving vehicles in 2009.

Waymo's fleet of self-driving vehicles has traveled over 25 million miles on public roads to perfect its driverless technology. In preparation for a commercial launch of Waymo One in San Francisco, the company's fleet traveled 2.7 million miles on the city's streets alone last year, mapping and collecting valuable data to improve Waymo's autonomous driving technology hardware and software stack called the "Waymo Driver".

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

"Building a safe, robust, and generalizable autonomous driver—the Waymo Driver—whose capabilities and performance transfer well between geographies and product lines is our main focus," said Dmitri Dolgov, Waymo co-CEO. "Just as our previous experience allowed us to deploy our 5th-gen Driver in San Francisco quickly and with confidence, the combination of our experience in San Francisco and Phoenix's East Valley, grounded in millions of miles of real-world driving and boosted by billions of miles driven in simulation, is already guiding our progress in Downtown Phoenix and sets us up for future expansion of our fully autonomous ride-hailing service."

Waymo is inviting San Francisco residents interested in becoming a "Trusted Tester" to download the Waymo One app and request to become one. The testers are continuously providing valuable feedback to help Waymo shape the future of autonomous ride-hailing.

Waymo is also emerging as one of the most well-funded autonomous driving companies. In June 2021, Waymo announced a $2.5 billion funding round. Participants included Waymo's parent company Alphabet Inc, Andreessen Horowitz and Tiger Global.

In 2020, Waymo raised $3 billion in its first-ever outside investment round. The company announced a $2.25 billion funding round in March 2020 then added another $750 million to that amount in May 2020.

Since March 2020, Waymo has raised $5.5 billion as it works to commercialize and scale its autonomous driving technology. Launching Waymo One in San Francisco without safety drivers is just the beginning. Waymo plans to scale the ride-hailing service to other major U.S. cities, which will make it a direct competitor to Uber, Lyft and Cruise.

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