Waymo, Alphabet Inc.’s autonomous driving tech unit, says it’s expanding its Waymo One robotaxi service in metro Phoenix, Arizona, to the city’s busy airport, where it expects demand for rides to be high eventually. The move comes at a time of upheaval in the self-driving vehicle industry.
The Mountain View, California-based company said that starting today it’s letting “trusted testers,” a limited group of riders registered in its network, hail electric Jaguar I-PACE SUVs in its Phoenix fleet round the clock. Rides will be available between downtown Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport and Waymo is also working with the airport to ferry passengers to the 44th Street light-rail train stop about 2 miles away. Backup human safety drivers will be behind the wheel as the service starts, though they’ll be removed “over the weeks to come,” the company said in a blog post.
Waymo employees have already been using its robotaxis to get to the airport and expanding access to a portion of the public is intended to help improve the service “before we roll out more broadly,” the company said.
Broadened airport service in Phoenix comes after Waymo said last month that it’s also preparing to launch its autonomous ride service in Los Angeles and begin ferrying passengers in San Francisco. It’s provided fully autonomous rides in suburban Phoenix, with no human at the wheel, since 2020 and has focused on extending commercial operations across that sprawling city.
Waymo’s gradual expansion comes as the outlook for self-driving companies grows tougher and the push to fully automate vehicles with no human at the wheel an increasingly costly, long-term challenge. On Monday, TuSimple, a Waymo rival in autonomous trucking, fired Xiaodi Hou, the cofounder, CEO, chairman and architect of its technology. That happened after a news report said Hou was being investigated for his role in improperly financing and transferring technology to a Chinese startup. Hou denies doing anything improper, and TuSimple said the move didn’t result from media coverage.
Last week, Ford and Volkswagen said they would stop funding Argo AI, a promising autonomous tech company that had raised more than $3 billion after determining that it would be too many years before they saw a return on that investment.
Waymo’s top rivals in the robotaxi space include General Motors-backed Cruise, which operates a limited service in San Francisco; Amazon’s Zoox; and Motional, an autonomous tech startup backed by Hyundai.