Waymo Expands to San Francisco with Public Self-Driving Car Test [Update] | GeekComparison

Waymo's 5th generation cars, based on the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace.
enlarge Waymo’s 5th generation cars, based on the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace.


Waymo is finally thinking of expanding. Alphabet’s self-driving car division has had an impressive self-driving taxi service for nearly a year, but only in a small suburban area outside Phoenix, Arizona. Now the company is expanding commercial service to San Francisco, starting with the rollout of a “trusted tester”. Members of the public who want to sign up for the confidential testing program will soon be able to flag a Waymo in town via the app.

Waymo says the “Trusted Tester” program is “a confidential research program within Waymo One, where select drivers can access our autonomous taxi service and share their experiences directly with our team to shape the future of autonomous driving.” During the testing program in San Francisco, vehicles will need safety drivers who are ready to intervene if something goes wrong. Metro Phoenix Waymo rides no longer require safety drivers.

The San Francisco expansion also marks the commercial rollout of the Jaguar I-Pace Waymo vehicles. Phoenix uses Chrysler Pacifica minivans for its commercial Waymo service, chosen because they could close the sliding doors automatically. Waymo originally theorized that if someone got out of a Waymo vehicle and the door didn’t close, the car would strand, so the company chose minivans with electric doors. That doesn’t seem to be a concern right now.

The layout of the I-Pace sensor.
enlarge The layout of the I-Pace sensor. ‘Vision’ in this image means ‘camera’.


Waymo hardware (the sensors, not the car) is now made entirely in-house and these I-Pace cars used in San Francisco represent the next generation of Waymo releases in hardware and software. The cars are essentially products that Waymo iterates on, and the “5th-generation Waymo Driver” features a “completely redesigned” hardware sensor suite that combines lidar, radar, and cameras for better environmental sensing.

The roof of the car houses a 360-degree lidar and 360-degree camera system, along with a forward-looking “long-range” camera and radar. Then there’s the “perimeter” detection system, which places lidar and cameras above the front and rear license plates, cameras and radar on each rear corner of the car, and three sensors – lidar, cameras and radar – just above the front wheel arches for evaluating of crossing traffic. Waymo says the new sensor suite can “identify key details such as pedestrians and stop signs more than 500 meters away”.

In addition to the new sensor suite, the Jaguar I-Pace is an all-electric car, so this is the greenest Waymo vehicle ever (the Pacificas were hybrids). Waymo says the 5th generation cars will “enable the widespread deployment of the Waymo Driver”, and the company is confident it has ordered 20,000 vehicles from Jaguar.

Waymo's Trusted Tester area.
enlarge Waymo’s Trusted Tester area.


Waymo has been testing these 5th-generation cars in San Francisco for a few months now, allowing Waymo employees to use the new cars in San Francisco since February. This is the first time members of the general public will be able to use the service in San Francisco — and the first time I-Paces has taken on customers. Riders in the test program can hail a taxi from the Waymo One app; it works just like Uber, except it’s limited to the service area.

A much bigger problem than the size of the service area is the fact that Waymo is moving from a sleepy, flat suburb to the bustle of a large, hilly city, a move that should provide valuable experience for the company.

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