Enlarge /. One of Waymo’s sensor-supported Jaguar I-Paces observes a pedestrian crossing the street in front of it.
To update 12:07 p.m.: Waymo has tried to clarify that it has actually applied for a driver’s license with which it can carry paid passengers, but with a driver in the car.
Original story: The day is approaching when robot taxis roam the streets of San Francisco in search of paying customers. This week, Reuters reported that both Waymo and Cruise have applied to the California Department of Motor Vehicles for approval to operate driverless vehicles. The approval alone is not enough to get a commercial Robotaxi service up and running, but it is an important milestone on the way.
Waymo has been operating a fully driverless commercial taxi service in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona for several months. But as Ars alum Tim Lee recently wrote, “Suburban Phoenix is a terrible place to run a taxi service.”
A sun-drenched suburb in the southwest, designed with the car in mind as the primary means of transport, is as simple as possible for an autonomous vehicle, outside the confines of private test tracks or a gigantic retirement village. This, in turn, means that the suburbs of Phoenix have limited value when it comes to teaching an autonomous vehicle how to deal with the big bad world. And since a car is practically a requirement for living in a suburb like Chandler, the people who live there don’t have to use taxis often.
San Francisco is not an easy mode. It grew more organically than planned by the Master and has a much higher population density than Chandler. There are more cyclists, more pedestrians, and sometimes these pedestrians step onto the street between parked cars.
Enlarge /. One of Cruise’s sensor-controlled Chevrolet Bolt EVs parked in San Francisco.
Cruise realized a few years ago that the Arizona suburbs were of limited value and decided to focus on San Francisco. In the Californian city, the “vehicles encountered challenging (and often absurd) situations up to 46 times more often than other locations themselves” driving cars are tested. “And in February, Waymo announced that it would expand its testing program there too.
Both Cruise and Waymo already have DMV approvals for driverless testing in California. According to Reuters, Waymo’s application was received by DMV for permission to provide driverless service on January 19, and Cruise submitted its application on March 29. Should they be approved, they would join Nuro, who had authorization to provide its service on autonomous delivery bots since December 2020. However, neither Cruise nor Waymo were ready to let Ars know when their tariff service could begin.