Image courtesy of Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

Waymo Moves Into More Markets, Plus One Rider Experience

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Waymo robotaxis have been rolling the streets of Phoenix, Arizona, for several years. But they’ve been slow to expand beyond there. However, it may be moving into a big new phase. Waymo was recently approved to operate its robotaxi service Waymo One in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Peninsula.

The approval comes from California’s regulator for these services, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). “Waymo may begin fared driverless passenger service operations in the specified areas of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Peninsula, effective today,” a press release posted on the CPUC’s website stated last Friday.

While Waymo hasn’t been suffering nearly the same turmoil as Cruise, no robotaxi service is perfect, and Waymo has had some issues to address in California leading up to this approval. “In mid-February, Waymo initiated a voluntary recall filing notice with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, saying it would fix software issues. The recall followed two previously undisclosed incidents that occurred in Phoenix on Dec. 11, in which unmanned Waymo vehicles crashed into the same towed pickup truck within minutes of each other,” CNBC writes. “The CPUC in February had suspended Waymo’s expansion efforts for up to 120 days to provide for added review time.”

We actually have some insight into what got Waymo approved for robotaxi service, as well. Part of the reason for the approval was “Waymo’s updated Passenger Safety Plan (PSP), submitted in connection with its expanded operational design domain (ODD) for deployment,” which is something the CPUC had requested.

Compared to the massive challenges Cruise is facing and Tesla’s huge delays and challenges getting “Full Self Driving” to robotaxi capability, it has to be said that Waymo is looking very good. It led the way into this realm, and lately I’m thinking that it’s still in the lead (after I thought, for several years, that Tesla’s approach was better and would be more successful). I do still think that some Chinese firms are doing exceptionally well, most notably XPeng, but it isn’t yet at the point of robotaxi operations with its consumer vehicles either. Until a company is actually shuttling people around full time in cost-effective and profitable robotaxis, it’s hard to make a strong determination about any of them.

Notably, our own Kyle Field recently went for a ride in a Waymo vehicle in Tempe, Arizona, recently and had an interesting experience to share from that. Here it is:

I just went on my first @Waymo ride today in Tempe, Arizona. Overall, it was an extremely smooth ride and a great experience. After the first 30 seconds of being amazed that there was no driver in the driver seat, it felt very normal.

2 minutes into our drive, we ran into a tow truck blocking the entire street. A few vehicles from behind us drove around us up onto the curb and passed the tow truck, but the Waymo just waited. Very quickly, it requested remote assistance.

The remote assistance intervened quickly busting a u-turn across a double double yellow marking on the street. It’s what most humans would have done.

It quickly identified a detour and got us back on track. The total ride was about 15 minutes over 4.2 miles through central Tempe and cost $22. That feels expensive even compared to an Uber so I guess you’re paying for the novelty of not having an expensive human driver in the seat.

If the cost drops to less than half of what an Uber costs over time, it’s hard not to imagine this dominating ride hailing. For now it’s a little more than a novelty, but in our two days in Tempe we saw five or six different Waymos running around town. That’s fewer than the number of Tesla’s we saw but more than the number of Rivians.

Kyle later ran a comparison of this trip with an Uber trip on the same route. His conclusion, as he told me when I asked about it: “It was roughly 20% more for the Waymo but that’s just one data point.”

Indeed, that’s just one data point, but it’s promising. Frankly, that much of a premium for no human driver you have to interact with or worry about is something that many people would be happy to pay. (More so introverts than extroverts, of course.)

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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