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: Waymo starts testing fully driverless robotaxi rides in San Francisco

Waymo has started offering free rides in its autonomous cars — with no one behind the wheel — in San Francisco.

“This morning in San Francisco, a fully autonomous all-electric Jaguar I-PACE, with no human driver behind the wheel, picked up a Waymo engineer to get their morning coffee and go to work,” the company said in a blog post Wednesday, noting that “removing the human driver from our vehicles in San Francisco is a significant milestone.”

While the rides are currently just for Waymo employees, the self-driving vehicle unit of Alphabet Inc.
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said it hopes to eventually offer fully driverless rides to the public.

Earlier this month, Waymo said it was ready to take the next step of starting a fully autonomous-driving service, with no safety drivers, in San Francisco. The company’s distinctive autonomous vehicles with sensors on the roof have been traversing San Francisco for years, with safety specialists in the driver’s seat, and have been providing a robotaxi service since last August through its “Trusted Tester” program.

In February, Waymo won approval from California regulators to begin charging for the robotaxi service in San Francisco, as long as there was a safety operator behind the wheel. The company will need additional regulatory approvals in California before charging the general public for fully driverless rides.

“We’re particularly excited about this next phase of our journey as we officially bring our rider-only technology to San Francisco — the city many of us at Waymo call home,” Waymo Co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana said in the blog post Wednesday.

Waymo also said it is expanding its autonomous taxi service in Arizona, adding downtown Phoenix to its service area, which previously included the suburbs of Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Tempe. Its service there has operated without safety operators behind the wheel for more than a year. As with San Francisco, the Phoenix rides will be just for Waymo employees for now, with the goal of later opening them to the public.

General Motors
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-owned Cruise launched its fully driverless, free robotaxi service in San Francisco earlier this year, though it is restricted to less-busy neighborhoods and currently only operates between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.

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