Google's self-driving car spinoff Waymo has just launched its autonomous vehicle ride-hailing service Waymo One in San Francisco, with a view toward getting rid of the "safety driver" altogether and letting the robo-cars do all the work.
We've been told at various times over the past decade that fully self-driving cars and cabs were likely way off in the future, because the technology still has a lot farther to go than some tech evangelist folk would have you believe. That still may be the case, but Waymo has already been running its app-based taxi service without anyone in the driver's seat in Phoenix for almost a year now. And now the company is taking the first step toward doing the same thing in San Francisco.
As the Associated Press reports, some of you who download the Waymo One app and register as a "trusted tester" will get the chance to ride in all-electric Jaguar I-PACEs piloted by Waymo's self-driving software — though for now there will be someone at the steering wheel for safety.
This is all part of a research program for Waymo, as the SF Business Times explains, that will "use data to help Waymo shape the future of fully autonomous ride-hailing."
There's clearly a guinea pig aspect to all this, and probably a lot of waivers that must be signed before becoming a "trusted tester." But hey, it's harder and more expensive to get a Lyft or Uber these days so maybe this will be helpful to some.
Reportedly a few of these autonomous Jaguars have already been taking passengers around SF in the last week, but the program is expanding. (You've no doubt seen a Waymo vehicle pass by you around town in recent years, but usually it just has a couple of clipboard types in the front seats taking notes.) And San Francisco is expected to join Phoenix as a testing ground for the full shebang, with no operators at the wheel at all, at some point when California approves such things.
Remember when Uber CEO Travis Kalanick just said "fuck it" one day in 2016 and let loose the company's largely untested self-driving cars around San Francisco, only to get slapped by the authorities a short time later? That earned them four years in the dog house, and Uber's self-driving Volvos didn't return to SF streets until March of 2020.
In addition to testing their cars in SF, Uber is also testing in Dallas, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C.
Want to hail a Waymo Jaguar? Just download the Waymo One app, and see if you become a chosen one.