Joining the likes of General Motors-owned Cruise, Waymo — the Alphabet-owned autonomous car company — is now permitted to give fully self-driven rides in San Francisco after months of testing with drivers behind the wheel.
The approval of Waymo's driverless taxis comes at a time of some growing unease with autonomous cars in SF. A number of Cruise's self-driving fleet have, in the last year, decided to just stop working and gather in one spot, holding up traffic in neighborhoods like Lower Haight and Nob Hill, in a couple of creepy instances. Waymo's fleet of posh, driverless Jaguar I-Paces haven't been operating without controversy and issues, either — a vehicle operated by Waymo collided with a pedestrian in December of last year, though the company said the car was being piloted by a person and was not in self-driving mode at the time.
SF, who’s ready to ride? 🚘🤖— Waymo (@Waymo) November 18, 2022
After receiving the driverless pilot permit from the @californiapuc, Waymo One is opening to members of the public in San Francisco. Available 24/7—without anyone in the driver’s seat: https://t.co/TenpLez0lo pic.twitter.com/DtSXXGNJpa
Regardless of the still present issues with these driverless taxis, Waymo, like Cruise, is now able to shuttle passengers around San Francisco, without anyone in the driver's seat.
As reported by The Verge, Waymo now has their latest permit to participate in the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) driverless pilot program, which allows autonomous vehicle (AV) companies to transport passengers in test AVs without anyone at the wheel, as of Friday. Both Waymo and Cruise previously got permits in March to operate taxi service in SF in AVs, but with safety drivers still behind the wheel.
In addition to San Francisco, a statement from CPUC indicates that Waymo may also offer driverless passengers in portions of Daly City, as well as parts of Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Sunnyvale. In areas where Waymo can conduct rides with AVs must do so only on public roadways that have posted speed limits of up to 65 miles per hour; these drives can be done no matter the time of day.
Sights of Waymo vehicles — with their external sensors swirling at dizzying RPMs — weaving through SF traffic have been fairly common sights since the company began testing in the city back in 2017. Waymo began charging for rides with a "human safety driver" present in March, though the AV technologies were responsible for shuttle passengers to and from destinations.
Friday's CPUC permission now allows those same rides to be done without a human behind the wheel. However, Waymo is not allowed to charge for these types of rides given under the pilot program.
Waymo says it plans on opening up driverless ride options to the public in the “coming weeks.” Though AVs, including those operated by Waymo, have historically struggled to perform in poor weather conditions, the autonomous driving technology company is apparently addressing the issue by collecting data about different conditions and extrapolating that knowledge onto its driverless systems.
When Waymo does launch its driverless rides, San Franciscans will now have two robotaxi options to choose from — each ride helping inch the autonomous driving sector closer to more widespread adoption.
"We are seeing momentum build in this space and are working to assure the safe expansion of the driverless pilot program,” said CPUC Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma in the statement.
Photo: A Waymo autonomous vehicle drives along California Street on April 11, 2022 in San Francisco, California. San Francisco is serving as testing grounds for autonomous vehicles with Waymo, a Google subsidiary and Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, logging millions of test miles throughout San Francisco in 2021. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)