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Waymo set to launch fully driverless vehicle service in San Francisco

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 3/22/2022 Mike Murphy
© Waymo

Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet Inc. said Monday that it is ready to introduce a fully autonomous-driving service in San Francisco.

“We’re now ready to begin introducing the Waymo Driver in fully autonomous mode — with no specialist behind the wheel — in the city as a major step on our path to deploying a fully autonomous commercial service,” Waymo Co-Chief Executive Tekedra Mawakana said in a blog post.

Waymo’s distinctive electric Jaguar I-Pace vehicles with sensors on the roof have become a common sight in San Francisco in recent years, driving back and forth learning the city’s streets — and occasionally hitting the same dead-end.

Last August, Waymo started a test program that offered free, autonomous-taxi rides in its vehicles to select users in San Francisco, with safety drivers behind the wheel. That program involved “hundreds” of volunteer passengers, Waymo said.

Mawakana said the tests helped Waymo make adjustments to how its cars drive in San Francisco, including “careful improvements to our braking patterns” to handle the city’s many four-way stops and how to more comfortably drive the city’s many steep hills.

Citing San Francisco’s troubling number of pedestrians injured and killed by cars last year, Mawakana said Waymo hopes its cars will improve safety on the city’s streets.

He did not say when the fully-autonomous service will begin, but said more details will be announced in the coming months. It was unclear if the fully autonomous service would be used for deliveries or as a taxi service.

Earlier this year, Waymo won state regulators’ approval to charge for taxi rides in its autonomous cars with a safety driver present. But it will need a separate approval to charge for completely driverless rides.

Phoenix is currently the only market where Waymo operates a fully autonomous taxi service to the general public.

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