Waymo launches robotaxi service in San Francisco

Waymo, the self-driving vehicle company under Alphabet, has launched a robotaxi service that will be open to certain vetted riders in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, the company officially kicked off its Waymo One Trusted Tester program in the city with a fleet of all-electric Jaguar I-PACEs equipped with the company’s fifth generation of its autonomous vehicle system. This AV system, which has been branded the Waymo Driver, is informed by 20 million self-driven miles on public roads and over 10 billion miles driven in simulation, according to Waymo.

The so-called Waymo One Trusted Tester program mirrors the company’s strategy in Phoenix, where it rolled out its first commercial ride-hailing service several years ago. The Trusted Tester program is a rebranding of Waymo’s previous Early Rider Program that it launched in Metro Phoenix in April 2017. Seeing as it’s been over four years, those riders are no longer exactly “early,” so a name change was in order, according to a Waymo spokesperson.

In Phoenix, Waymo eventually invited some of the early riders to move over to the Waymo One service, which let users publicly share their impressions on the service and invite friends or family member who weren’t part of the early rider program. Waymo then opened up the service to everyone.

San Franciscans can download the Waymo One app and express their interest in joining the program, which will begin with an initial select group from diverse backgrounds with varied transportation needs, including wheelchair accessibility, according to Waymo. The company would not share how many riders would be included in the initial group, nor how many Jaguars it will have roaming the city, but it did say riders would have to be willing to offer a lot of detailed feedback on their riding experience and sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Waymo will encourage riders to use its autonomous service to help them with their everyday mobility needs. The rides are free for now, and will start out in an initial territory in parts of San Francisco, including the Sunset, Richmond, Pac Heights, Noe, the Castro, Haight Ashbury and more, with expectations to expand over time. The service will be offered 24 hours per day, seven days per week, the spokesperson told TechCrunch. 

The company will have so-called “autonomous specialists” — another term for human safety operators — sitting in the front seat to monitor the ride and ensure a safe experience. These safety drivers are contract workers, and employed by Transdev. Waymo has long partnered with Transdev to provide staffing for some of its operations.

Waymo’s rider support team will also be available at the tap of the button on the in-car screen or through the app if riders have any questions during their rides, the spokesperson said.

Waymo’s first ride-hailing service launched in Phoenix, but its roots are in California, notably the Silicon Valley enclave of Mountain View. It’s been testing in the greater San Francisco Bay area for more than a decade.

The company began testing its robotaxi service by offering autonomous rides to its employees in the city earlier this year.

The news about the Trusted Tester launch comes a week after Waymo announced that it’s scaling up its Waymo Via autonomous trucking operations in Texas, Arizona and California and is building a trucking hub outside of Dallas. The company has also been testing its fifth generation Driver on Class 8 trucks in Texas, hauling freight for carriers like J.B. Hunt, so this newest application of the Driver is a sign that Waymo is either succeeding at its push to full autonomy, or that it’s putting the recent $2.5 billion in funding to good use.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #robotaxi, #tc, #transportation, #waymo-driver

Waymo Via is scaling up autonomous trucking operations in Texas, Arizona, California

Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving arm, is building a dedicated trucking hub in Dallas and partnering with Ryder for fleet management services in a two-pronged move to seriously scale up its autonomous trucking operations across Texas, Arizona and California.

This news comes just a couple of months after Waymo announced a $2.5 billion raise that it would use to continue growing its autonomous driving platform, the Waymo Driver, as well as its team. Waymo has been ramping up testing on the fifth generation of the Driver on Class 8 trucks, hauling freight for carriers like J.B. Hunt along Interstate 45 between Houston and Fort Worth, Texas and working with Daimler Trucks to develop a robust level 4 redundant vehicle platform, according to a spokesperson for the company. According to the Society of Automotive Engineers, level 4 autonomy means the vehicle can drive itself without a human but only in predefined areas.

Waymo has already broken ground on the new 9-acre trucking hub, which will be built specifically for Waymo Via, the company’s autonomous trucking operations, in Dallas-Forth Worth to service one of the busiest corridors in the country. Designed for commercial use, the hub is expected to accommodate hundreds of trucks as the company scales in the region and amplifies larger and more complex autonomous testing. Waymo says it will help the company spread out operations in Texas beyond the I-45 and across the I-10 and I-20. The location is well situated to support long-haul routes across state borders and connect with Waymo’s Phoenix operations center. Waymo said it plans to move into the facility during the first half of next year.

This is where the Ryder partnership comes in. The Dallas hub will be a central launch point for testing not only the Waymo Driver, but also its transfer hub model, which is a mix of automated and manual trucking that optimizes transfer hubs near highways to ensure the Waymo Driver is sticking to main thoroughfares and human drivers are handling first and last mile deliveries. Scaling this model will require a high level of organization, and Ryder’s fleet management services and standardized fleet maintenance across over 500 facilities should be up to the job.

The partnership includes fleet maintenance, inspections and roadside assistance across all of the Waymo Via hubs and testing sites, including the new Dallas facility. Given Ryder’s size and influence and Waymo’s access to AV fleet data, the two companies will also work on a blueprint for autonomous truck maintenance and optimized performance.

“While this partnership initially focuses on fleet maintenance, we see many opportunities to collaborate on autonomous trucking operations in order to successfully deploy these trucks at scale,” said Karen Jones, chief marketing officer and head of new product development for Ryder, in a statement. “Already, we’ve collaborated on the layout and design of Waymo’s new Dallas facility to ensure it’s optimized for serviceability of trucks and for the transfer hub model they plan to pursue in the near future. Autonomous Class 8 technology is quickly taking hold, and Ryder is poised to become a leader — not only in servicing trucks but also in managing the unique logistics of autonomous operations.”

#automotive, #autonomous-trucking, #logistics, #tc, #transportation, #waymo, #waymo-driver, #waymo-via

Waymo to open offices in Pittsburgh, an AV tech hub

Waymo, Google’s former self-driving car project that’s now an independent business unit under Alphabet, is expanding its presence in the eastern U.S. The company said Thursday it would be opening offices in Pittsburgh, joining a growing suite of companies developing and testing autonomous vehicle technology in the Steel City.

The company will start by hiring around a dozen engineers, a source familiar with the move told TechCrunch, and they’ll co-locate in Google’s existing offices in the Bakery Square district. As of Thursday, only around three open positions for the Pittsburgh area were listed on Waymo’s website, but the company will be adding more roles soon.

Some of the new team will come from Pittsburgh-based RobotWits, a tech startup focused on autonomous vehicle decision-making. That includes RobotWits’ founder and CEO Maxim Likhachev, and other members of its engineering and technical team. While Waymo did not technically acquire the startup, it did acquire RobotWits’ IP rights, the source said.

There are no current plans to deploy the so-called Waymo Driver, its autonomous driving platform, in Pittsburgh, the source added. Instead, the new team will work on motion planning development, real-time route planning and developing Driver. Thus far, Driver has seen deployment in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area. Its Waymo Via trucking and cargo service will be deployed in a test run with trucking logistics company J.B. Hunt Transport Services in Texas.

AV tech rivals Aurora, Motional, Argo AI have already established offices in the city; combined with talent at Carnegie Melon University, the city has established itself as a bona fide hub for autonomous engineering development. Pittsburgh is also home to many smaller AV startups, including Locomation, which is working on autonomous trucks.

Waymo’s Pittsburgh location will join its network of offices in Mountain View, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York, Dallas and Hyderabad, India.

#automotive, #autonomous-driving, #autonomous-trucking, #autonomous-vehicles, #pittsburgh, #transportation, #waymo, #waymo-driver