Waymo, the self-driving technology company, is entering a critical phase in its journey towards expanded commercial operations. This month, the company is set to begin testing its driverless passenger vehicles on the highway, a significant milestone that could potentially pave the way for autonomous transportation for regular customers.
In a recent announcement, Waymo revealed that their fleet of autonomous Jaguar I-Pace SUVs will hit the freeways in Phoenix, Arizona, shuttling employees around as part of the initial testing phase. While the vehicles have been tested with trained operators behind the wheel for the past year, this marks the first time they will operate without any human intervention. The company plans to eventually expand its driverless highway service to the general public, although a specific timeline has not been given.
Waymo has been making significant strides in the self-driving industry, particularly in Phoenix. Last year, the company launched a curbside dropoff and pickup service at the Phoenix airport. And just a few months ago, Waymo made its autonomous vehicles available through the popular Uber app.
Meanwhile, Waymo’s competitors have struggled to keep up. Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of GM, has faced setbacks with a recent staff reduction and a high-profile accident involving one of its vehicles hitting a pedestrian last October.
However, Waymo’s progress has not been without its challenges. Last year, the company shifted its focus away from its autonomous trucking project and towards ride-hailing services. This decision came after extensive testing in Arizona, which has provided valuable insights for the launch of their passenger vehicle program on highways.