Waymo was awarded a permit by the California Public Utilities Commission to take part in the state’s autonomous vehicle passenger service pilot program — though it may not charge riders, and a human safety driver must remain behind the wheel. The permit brings the Alphabet company one step closer to launching a robot taxi service in its home state.
Waymo is the fourth company to participate in the pilot program, following Zoox, Autox Technologies, and Pony.ai. The permit is good for three years but is separate from California’s autonomous vehicle testing program. Over 60 companies have permits from the DMV to test self-driving cars in the state.
Waymo claims there is no timetable to launch a commercial ride-hailing service in California as it did in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona, late last year. That service, Waymo One, provides trips to around 400 volunteer test riders. In addition, the company struck a deal with Lyft to add 10 of its autonomous minivans to the ride-hailing company’s platform in Phoenix.
In California, the company will only give rides to Waymo employees and their guests within its limited service area in the South Bay, which includes the neighborhoods of Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Palo Alto.
“This is the next step on our path to eventually expand and offer more Californians opportunities to access our self-driving technology, just as we have gradually done with Waymo One in Metro Phoenix,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
Last year, Waymo became the first company to be granted permission to operate fully driverless cars without human drivers behind the steering wheel on public roads in California. To date, no other company has been authorized to conduct fully driverless testing. Waymo autonomous cars drove about 1.3 million miles on public roads in California in 2018, according to the DMV.