Waymo self-driving cars OK’d to carry passengers in California

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Waymo’s self-driving cars can now carry passengers in California. | Credit: Waymo

Waymo has been testing its self-driving cars in California for years. Now Alphabet’s self-driving car division has been granted a permit to carry passengers in the Golden State. Waymo is now part of California’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot program, joining Autox Technologies, Pony.ai and Zoox.

The permit, which was granted by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) requires a Waymo safety operator to be behind the wheel at all times and doesn’t allow Waymo to charge riders. The permit is good for three years.

“The CPUC allows us to participate in their pilot program, giving Waymo employees the ability to hail our vehicles and bring guests on rides within our South Bay territory,” Waymo said in a statement. “This is the next step in our path to eventually expand and offer more Californians opportunities to access our self-driving technology, just as we have gradually done with Waymo One in Metro Phoenix.”

Waymo also received an exemption from the CPUC that allows it to use a third-party company to contract out safety operators. Waymo said all safety operators go through a proprietary driver training program. In a letter requesting the exemption, Waymo said that while its “team of test drivers will include some full-time Waymo employees, operating and scaling a meaningful pilot requires a large group of drivers who are more efficiently engaged through Waymo’s experienced and specialized third-party staffing providers.”

Waymo self-driving taxi service coming to California?

Of course, this permit opens the door for Waymo to eventually offer an autonomous taxi service in California. But a Waymo spokesperson said there was no timetable for rolling out a self-driving taxi-like service in California. For now, the Waymo service will be limited to its employees and their guests in the Silicon Valley area.

Waymo One, a commercial self-driving service, launched in December 2018 in Phoenix, Ariz. It has been offering rides to more than 400 volunteer testers. Waymo recently announced a partnership with Lyft. It will deploy 10 autonomous vehicles in the coming months that would be available through the Lyft app. There will be safety drivers behind the wheel in this partnership, too.

Calif. Autonomous Vehicle Disengagements 2018

Company Disengagements per 1000 miles (2018) Miles per Disengagement (2018) Miles Driven (2018) Miles per disengagement (2017)
Waymo 0.09 11,017 1,271,587 5,595.95
GM Cruise 0.19 5,204.9 447,621 1,254.06
Zoox 0.52 1,922.8 30,764 282.96
Nuro 0.97 1,028.3 24,680
Pony.ai 0.98 1,022.3 16,356
Nissan 4.75 210.5 5,473 208.36
Baidu 4.86 205.6 18,093 41.06
AIMotive 4.96 201.6 3,428
AutoX 5.24 190.8 22,710
Roadstar.AI 5.70 175.3 7,539
WeRide/JingChi 5.71 173.5 15,440.80
Aurora 10.01 99.9 32,858
Drive.ai 11.91 83.9 4,616.69 43.59
PlusAI 18.40 54.4 10,816
Nullmax 22.40 44.6 3,036
Phantom AI 48.20 20.7 4,149
NVIDIA 49.73 20.1 4,142 4.63
SF Motors 90.56 11 2,561
Telenav 166.67 6.0 30 32
BMW 219.51 4.6 41
CarOne/Udelv 260.27 3.8 219
Toyota 393.70 2.5 381
Qualcomm 416.63 2.4 240.02
Honda 458.33 2.2 168
Mercedes Benz 682.52 1.5 1,749.39 1.29
SAIC 829.61 1.2 634.03
Apple 871.65 1.1 79,745
Uber 2608.46 0.4 26,899

Waymo’s track record in California

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Waymo had the best-performing autonomous vehicles in the state for the second consecutive year. Some have said the DMV’s tracking method is too vague and has allowed companies to avoid reporting certain events.

Nonetheless, Waymo’s self-driving cars experienced one disengagement every 11,017 miles. That performance marks a 50 percent reduction in the rate and a 96 percent increase in the average miles traveled between disengagements compared to the 2017 numbers. In 2016, Waymo had one disengagement every 5,128 miles. Waymo also drove significantly more miles, up from 352,000 miles in 2017 to 1.2 million miles in 2018, which makes the performance even more impressive.

Waymo is also working on autonomous trucks. Waymo has hired 13 former employees from Anki, the once-popular consumer robotics company that closed down. Anki Co-Founder and CEO Boris Sofman was hired as Director of Engineering, Head of Trucking, Waymo.

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