Waymo is going to start shuttling a wider group of passengers around in its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, California — though they’ll have to sign nondisclosure agreements, and there still will be a human safety driver behind the wheel.
It’s the second city where the company has expanded its nascent autonomous vehicle offering, as the Google sibling has been performing fully driverless rides rides without a safety driver in parts of Phoenix, Arizona for more than a year now. Waymo is one of a handful of companies trying to get a commercial service off the ground built around autonomous vehicles, like Argo AI (which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen) and Cruise (which is backed by General Motors).
Waymo has been testing self-driving cars in San Francisco for a decade, dating back to when it was still just a quirky-looking project inside Google. And it has let some Waymo employees ride in the early version of the commercial AV program in San Francisco. But now people can apply through the Waymo One smartphone app to take part in what it’s calling the “Trusted Tester” program, which is basically a rebranding of the “Early Rider” program it ran in Phoenix. (Waymo says the Early Rider program in Phoenix will also take on the new name.)
Free rides in exchange for feedback and a tight lip
People who are accepted into the program will be able to take rides in Waymo’s autonomous Jaguar I-Pace SUVs for free but will have to offer feedback in exchange, and they won’t be able to publicly share what the experience is like. There will be vehicles that are wheelchair-accessible, too. This is how the company started out the service in Phoenix, though now anyone can hop into one of its vehicles there and even film and share the experience — warts and all.
“From using the Waymo One app, to pickup and drop-offs, to the ride itself, we receive valuable feedback from our riders that allows us to refine our product offering as we advance our service” in San Francisco, the company wrote in a blog post. “We kicked off this program last week with a select few and are now expanding the program to all interested San Franciscans. We’ll begin with an initial group and welcome more riders in the weeks to come.”
Waymo has some 300 vehicles in Phoenix, some of which operate without a safety driver. The company declined to say how many vehicles will be running as part of this new program in San Francisco, or how many people it will accept into the program, or when it will start testing fully driverless vehicles in the city.
But expanding this program to a second city is a big step. Phoenix has always offered wide roads and steady, warm weather. Those conditions will be harder to come by in San Francisco, a city that is famous for a zig-zagging road, and one where the fog is so notorious it has its own Twitter account.