Mar 5, 2024 - News

Waymo's Austin vehicles eschew humans behind wheel

A Waymo vehicle sits at a railroad crossing near downtown Austin.

A Waymo vehicle at a railroad crossing near downtown Austin. Photo: Courtesy of Waymo

Starting Wednesday, Waymo will test its Austin vehicles fully autonomously — with no human behind the wheel — as it prepares to roll out its ride-hailing service.

Why it matters: The company hopes to succeed in Austin where other companies — notably Cruise — have had a rocky road as it tries to remake how we get from point A to point B.

How it works: Waymo, a subsidiary of Google's parent company, Alphabet, will test across 43 square miles of the city, including downtown, Barton Hills, Riverside, Hyde Park and East Austin.

  • For now the company will provide rides only to Waymo employees.

Friction point: Although robot vehicles seem nifty and futuristic, they've sometimes created headaches for, and brought complaints from, Austinites and emergency workers.

Between the lines: Per a 2017 state law supported by car companies, Texas cities can't regulate self-driving cars.

Flashback: The company announced last year it was testing its equipment on Jaguar SUVs in areas in and near downtown.

What they're saying: "Our maturing operations in Austin builds on over 15 years' experience we've carefully built driving autonomously across the U.S.," Saswat Panigrahi, chief product officer of Waymo, said in a statement. "Our disciplined deployment in Texas' capital brings us one step closer to safely delivering the benefits of fully autonomous driving to many more people."

What's next: Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana will participate in a SXSW session about scaling up an autonomous ride-hailing service in multiple cities, including Austin.

  • Waymo's head of user experience, Lauren Schwendimann, will moderate a panel of key disability advocates discussing the benefits of autonomous vehicles.

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