Waymo’s self-driving cars no longer require a safety driver in San Francisco

A Waymo self-driving car successfully completed a trip in San Francisco on Wednesday without a safety driver for the first time.

The trip saw a Jaguar I-Pace fitted with Waymo’s self-driving system pick up an employee to get their morning coffee and then take them to work.

Waymo’s self-driving cars have been providing lifts to Waymo employees in San Francisco since mid-2021, though always with a safety driver behind the wheel. Now the cars will start operating without a safety driver, though lifts will only be provided to employees.

Waymo hasn’t said when the first members of the public will be able to ride in one of its self-driving cars in San Francisco. Main rival Cruise also has self-driving cars without a safety driver operating on the city’s crowded roads, and Cruise in February started allowing members of the public to sign up for a ride, though the company hasn’t said when the first public ride will happen.

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Waymo has been testing self-driving cars in San Francisco for more than 12 years, starting when the company was still a skunkworks team at parent company Google. However, the company’s first self-driving service offered to the public, known as Waymo One, was rolled out in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2020. The service was rolled out in Phoenix’s East Valley, and will next be expanded to Downtown Phoenix, Waymo said on Wednesday.

While Waymo currently relies on regular vehicles like the I-Pace as well as the Chrysler Pacifica for its self-driving cars, the company may eventually replace these with a dedicated vehicle. Waymo last December said it will add an electric shuttle built by Zeekr to its U.S. fleet, prototypes for which are already testing.

Waymo’s self-driving system, known as the Waymo Driver, is ranked at Level 4 on the SAE scale of self-driving capability, as it can drive on its own, though only with restrictions, the main one being within a geofenced area. Level 5 is the ultimate goal, as this represents a system that can drive at the same level as a human.

Waymo’s long-term goal is to develop a robust and reliable self-driving system capable of handling roads all over the world. The company doesn’t plan to manufacture self-driving cars but rather to offer the technology as a service or directly to other firms via license. The company is developing its system for both passenger vehicles, and commercial vehicles like delivery vans and semi-trailer trucks. Waymo’s self-driving delivery service is known as Waymo Via.

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