On Wednesday, Alphabet, Inc. unit Waymo said that it now offers driverless rides to employees in San Francisco, accelerating a race with General Motors Co.-backed rival Cruise in commercializing technology in the city.
Waymo also launched driverless rides to Phoenix-based employees with safety drivers behind the wheel. Public testing may be in the future soon.
“Operating fully autonomously in multiple markets — in addition to Waymo’s growing trucking operations — is a critical validator of the scalability of Waymo’s operations and technology,” it said in a statement.
Waymo started the first driverless taxi service in the US in 2020, more than ten years since the company was started as a project inside Google in 2008. But Waymo’s rides have not expanded beyond suburban Phoenix areas covering about 50 square miles (129.5 square kilometers). Instead, Waymo still gives paid rides to hundreds of people a week using Chrysler minivans.
In August, free autonomous rides were offered to a limited number of people in San Francisco using its Jaguar electric vehicles equipped with sensors such as spinning lidars and safety drivers on board.
Waymo needs two more permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to begin charging for the autonomous rides.
Waymo declined to comment on whether it had applied for the permits.
On the other hand, Cruise offers fully driverless rides to employees and the public free of charge in San Francisco. The company is also seeking CPUC approval for commercial service, hoping to get permits this year.
Self-driving technology firms, which have attracted billions of dollars of investments, face challenges scaling up their technology after missing their earlier targets to launch commercial services.
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