Waymo, Others Stop Testing Self-Driving Cars on California Roads Due to the Coronavirus
Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area is normally abuzz with activity, with dozens of tech companies and automakers testing autonomous vehicles, mapping area roads, and even operating unmanned delivery robots. Self-driving cars are normally a common sight on Bay Area roads and are easily recognizable by their roof full of sensors. However, the recent Coronavirus outbreak has put the brakes on just about all of the testing that's being done.
Alphabet subsidiary Waymo announced on Tuesday it was temporarily suspending its robotaxi services in Phoenix, Arizona, where its is testing its Waymo One service. The suspension is for all vehicles that require a backup driver. Waymo is also testing its autonomous vehicles without a safety driver behind the wheel, but those vehicles will remain on the road for now, the company said.
Waymo also said it was pausing self-driving tests in California, where it and dozens of other companies have permits from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicles with backup drivers.
After Alphabet subsidiary Waymo announced it was cancelling its autonomous vehicle testing, other notable Bay Area companies, including Uber, Cruise and Pony.ai have followed suit and suspended their operations that normally rely on safety drivers behind the wheel to help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
"In the interest of the health and safety of our riders and the entire Waymo community, we're pausing our Waymo One service with trained drivers in Metro Phoenix for now as we continue to watch COVID-19 developments. We've also paused driving in California in line with local guidance," Waymo wrote in a blog post.
Silicon Valley Grinds to a Halt
It's the first time in nearly a decade that there are virtually no vehicles being tested on public roads in Silicon Valley, as the entire San Francisco Bay Area and the rest of the U.S. economy grinds to a halt as states try to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.
Silicon Valley roads that are normally clogged with morning and evening rush hour traffic have been unusually quiet, as people remain indoors.
The entire region is also under an unprecedented multi-county "shelter-in-place" order, requiring nearly 7 million residents to stay indoors, with the exception of running errands for essential services, such as grocery shopping and health care. Most tech companies have already instructed employees to work from home.
"The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has been in contact with AV testing permit holders and there is every indication that they are adhering to federal, state and local public health recommendations," a spokesman for California's DMV said to Reuters.
Cruise, the self-driving arm of U.S. automaker General Motors based in San Francisco, said it had suspended operations and closed all of its facilities for three weeks. Arden Hoffman, chief people officer at Cruise told Reuters that the test operators will be fully-paid for any days they would have worked during this period.
Argo AI, a unit of Ford Motor Co, said it had paused its vehicle testing operations, but added it has not experienced any significant impact due to the coronavirus.
Toyota-backed Pony.ai said it had paused its public robotaxi service in Fremont and Irvine, California for three weeks, but the company will continue testing cars in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Guangzhou. Pony.ai launched its autonomous robotaxi pilot just over two weeks ago with the city of Fremont, California.
Ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies Inc also said it would temporarily halt its test track and on-road track testing of self-driving vehicles for the time being.
With Coronavirus cases still rising in the U.S., it could be months before things return to normal, not just in Silicon Valley, but for the entire auto industry.
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