waymo driverless car

Waymo launches public trial of its driverless ride-hailing service in San Francisco

Image credit: reuters

Waymo, Google’s autonomous vehicle spin-off, has started offering selected members of the public access to its self-driving taxi service in San Francisco for the first time.

Residents who have chosen to participate in Waymo’s ‘Trusted Tester’ scheme will be able to hail a driverless vehicle in the city’s more residential western and southern districts.

While the trips will be completed entirely autonomously, a driver will still sit behind the wheel ready to take control at a moment’s notice should they need to.

Anyone can sign up for the trial service, but Waymo will be hand-selecting those who it wishes to take part. The firm said it had the confidence to launch the service after an initial rollout open only to its employees started in February.

“We’ve been driving in the city for over twelve years, have accumulated more autonomous driving miles in California than anyone in the industry, and began ramping up our testing by offering autonomous rides to our employees in San Francisco earlier this year,” Waymo said in a blog post.

“Now, for the first time, San Franciscans will be able to hail an autonomous ride in one of our all-electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles equipped with the fifth-generation Waymo Driver.”

In a similar fashion to ride-hailing services like Uber, users will need to use the Waymo One app to schedule their pick-up and define their destination. It has already launched a service in Phoenix, Arizona where users can book a cab through the Google Maps app as well.

A report from 2018 found that Waymo is expected to dominate the autonomous vehicle sector by 2030, capturing around 60 per cent of the market.

But speaking to Reuters about its San Francisco service, Sam Kansara, Waymo’s senior product manager, acknowledged that autonomous vehicles are rolling out more slowly than the burgeoning industry initially expected.

“There’s a lot that remains to be done,” he said. “This is a step about starting to now get more information so that we can inform our roadmap.”

One of the hindrances faced by the sector is the abundant caution from regulators around the world.

Last year, the UK Government launched a consultation on whether to allow a simplified form of driverless tech – Automated Lane Keeping Systems – on British roads.

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