By Hyunjoo Jin
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc unit Waymo on Wednesday said it has started offering driverless rides to employees in San Francisco, accelerating a race with General Motors Co.-backed rival Cruise to commercialise the technology in the dense city.
“Operating fully autonomously in multiple markets ” in addition to Waymo’s growing trucking operations ” is a critical validator of the scalability of Waymo’s operations and technology,” it said in a statement.
Waymo did not elaborate on when or whether it plans to charge customers for rides in San Francisco. It has applied for a regulatory permit to do so.
A self-driving technology pioneer, Waymo started the first U.S. driverless taxi service in 2020, over a decade after it was born in 2009 as a project inside Google. While it gives paid rides to hundreds of people a week using Chrysler minivans, Waymo’s service has not expanded beyond suburban Phoenix areas that cover about 50 square miles. [L1N2R80CD]
Waymo in August started giving autonomous rides free of charge to a limited number of people in San Francisco with safety drivers on board, using its Jaguar electric vehicles equipped with sensors such as spinning lidars on the top.
Cruise aims to be permitted this year for a middle-of-the-night, paid driverless offering in San Francisco. They need to obtain permits from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to allow them to charge passengers for driverless service in California.
Self-driving technology firms, which have attracted billions of dollars of investments, face challenges of scaling up their technology, after missing their earlier targets to launch commercial services.
(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin; Editing by Mark Porter)