Alphabet’s Waymo has begun taking some San Francisco residents for rides in its self-contained sport utility vehicles and hopes to open robot taxis to anyone in the city in less than three years for launch in its only other market.
Waymo’s announcement on Tuesday of its status and plans in San Francisco, a small peninsula of hills, carts, bicycles and narrow streets, shows the extent that remains before driverless transportation becomes commonplace.
The company’s all-electric Jaguar I-PACE SUVs are initially serving the more residential parts of the west and south of the city, including Richmond and Bernal Heights. Operators are in the driver’s seats with their hands on their knees – but prepared to drive in an emergency.
Anyone can sign up for Waymo’s hitchhike greeting app, although the company is manually selecting who will be chosen from the list that is expected to gradually grow to hundreds of people. Waymo prevents them from publicly discussing tours.
Sam Kansara, Senior Product Manager at Waymo, recognized that autonomous vehicles are running slower than Waymo and its many rivals had originally imagined.
“There is still a lot to be done,” said Kansara. “This is a step to start now to get more information so we can inform our roadmap.”
The company wants feedback from people with different experiences and transport needs. She expects many drivers to face the challenges of getting in and out because of San Francisco’s limited sidewalk space and excessive double parking.
Employees who have been traveling the city since February have given the company the confidence to expand to the public, Kansara said.
Waymo last October, in a first-ever US deployment for the industry, began allowing anyone to hitchhike on its completely driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans in some suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona.
The launch came after three years of testing, but Kansara said he hopes the lessons learned from that experience will bring faster progress in San Francisco.
© Thomson Reuters 2021