As Cruise continues to flail, Waymo is taking its self-driving cars to the next level. The company, which is known as a leader in the self-driving space, is finally taking its cars from the streets and onto the highway for the first time.
In a press release, the company announced it is beginning to test its self-driving taxis on the freeway in Phoenix, Arizona. Waymo says that “just as we’ve taken a phased approach to rolling out our technology and operations in the past, we will continue to deploy in a step-by-step manner, first providing rider-only trips to our employees on freeways across Phoenix.”
We have years of safe and proven experience operating fleets of rider-only vehicles on public roads across California and Arizona, and millions of miles of experience operating autonomous class 8 trucks and cars on freeways with a specialist present. As part of our focus on scaling ride hailing, we’ve incrementally ramped up our testing on freeways with passenger vehicles over the past year. Now, as we prepare to take the next step of removing the autonomous specialist from our operations, we’re following the same processes outlined by our safety framework that helped us responsibly launch and expand the world’s first fully autonomous ride hailing service over three years ago.
In a video posted by the company, you can see how the Waymo Driver (its self-driving technology) handles the highway. The demonstration video shows off the Waymo Driver “autonomously operating both a passenger vehicle and class 8 truck safely in various freeway scenarios, including on-ramps and off-ramps, lane merges, and sharing the road with others.”
One of the benefits of adding freeway capability to its self-driving cars, of course, is time savings. According to the company, “a trip from Sky Harbor Airport to the northern parts of Scottsdale can be 50% faster by taking AZ-101 compared to city streets.”
While the company is starting to test freeway rides with its employees or, as Waymo calls them, “Waymonauts,” it hopes that it will be able to open up freeway rides to customers in Pheonix soon. With the time savings it is showing, I’m sure Waymo One customers in the city are hoping that “soon” means next week as opposed to next month.
The announcement comes a couple of months after Waymo expanded its ride-hailing service in San Francisco, now operating across 47 miles of the city. Waymo is also still in the middle of its “Waymo One Tour” in Los Angeles. Over the next few months, the company will be holding “early access” events in a number of cities for residents to try out the fully autonomous ride-hailing service. Below is a list of the cities and dates Waymo will be holding events:
- Mid City: January 8, 2024 through January 23, 2024
- K-Town: January 24, 2024 through February 8, 2024
- DTLA: February 9, 2024 through March 3, 2024
As Waymo puts its self-driving cars on the highway for the first time, Tesla has recently recalled over 1.6 million of its cars in China for the same Autopilot issue affecting its vehicles in the United States. The issue in the U.S. said that “in certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse of the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature.” In response to the issue, Tesla will be releasing a software update for all of the impacted vehicles.