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Waymo launches Trusted Tester program in SF for self-driving taxis

Driverless cars are what we perceive as the future, but the reality of this is that the future is nearing closer each and every day. If you’re not from the US, you may not have even heard about Waymo, but the company has been around since 2009, as a part of Google’s self-driving car project. In 2018, the Alphabet company had been piloting the business by having a just-in-case driver in the front seat, before releasing their fully-driverless fleet of robotaxis in Phoenix in 2020. It applied to a 50-square-mile radius at first and was available to select customers who had been testing the service prior to the full release. Now residents of San Francisco will be able to test out the self-driving cars, in the hopes that they will receive positive feedback and be able to release another fleet into this part of the states.

Waymo has a number of vehicles that are equipped with their autonomous driving technology, which is dubbed ‘Waymo Driver’, the newest to join their fleet is the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE, the first premium self-driving car. The first vehicles to be tested way back in 2009 were the Toyota Priuses, which within a few months had done the most miles in an autonomous vehicle in history. In 2015 came the Firefly, a cute, pod-shaped car with custom sensors, computers, braking and steering, with no pedals or steering wheel and a maximum speed of 25mph. The Firefly retired in 2017, and replaced with Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, when Waymo partnered with Fiat Chrysler Automotive to introduce an autonomously driven vehicle and was the first to be mass produced designed for and integrated with the Waymo Driver technology. They have also previously equipped Audi TT’s with the technology along with the Lexus RX450h.

The Trusted Tester program was launched to residents of the San Francisco area on Tuesday, and is providing free rides that can be booked through their app, with the riders providing feedback through the Waymo One app on the pick-up, drop-off and how the ride was on the journey. The cars will be equipped with fully trained drivers in case of emergency. They will begin with a small number of locals from the area that are within the testing range and will eventually expand to provide rides for more customers in a larger area. Waymo also mentions there are wheelchair accessible rides available to be tested. Not only are they testing this new area with autonomous taxis, they are also working on integrating Class 8 trucks with the Waymo Driver technology to operate autonomously, a substantial leap in technology, which they have dubbed ‘Waymo Via’.

With all new technology, especially with autonomous cars and the likes of Tesla being called out by the FTC with its numerous incidents on the roads and possibly false advertising, there are risks. In 2018 the first fatality by an autonomous vehicle was reported, although there was a backup driver in the front seat, a pedestrian pushing her bike across the road was struck and subsequently died from her injuries. This was one of Uber’s self-driving cars, and the company has said that these types of cars are still in the experimental phase. Waymo cars had around 18 incidents in 20 months beginning 2018, which involved accidents with a cyclist, driver, pedestrian or other object, and 29 ‘disengagements’- times a human driver had to take control to prevent an accident. Also, earlier this year, one of the rides went off course and blocked traffic, with the company saying, "Our team has already assessed the event and improved our operational process."

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