Waymo to Resume its Self-driving Vehicle Testing Next Week in Arizona
Alphabet subsidiary Waymo, the self-driving technology company which spawned from Google's early self-driving car project, announced on Thursday that it will resume its autonomous vehicle testing next week.
Beginning on Monday, May 11, Waymo is putting some of its vehicles back on the road in the Phoenix, Arizona metro area, where the company has been testing its driverless vehicles for the past several years.
Waymo suspended its operations in Arizona and in the rest of North America on March 20 to protect its employees and customers in its Early Rider program in Arizona, as coronavirus infections spread throughout the U.S.
Waymo also paused its testing in California, where dozens of other companies have permits from the state's Department of Motor Vehicles to test autonomous vehicles with backup drivers behind the wheel.
Waymo rivals Uber, Cruise and Pony.ai have also suspended testing in California, as most of Silicon Valley remains under a mandatory shelter-in-place order.
Waymo is planning to launch an autonomous robotaxi service using a fleet of driverless vehicles that customers can summon via a smartphone app. The service is called Waymo One and has been open to a select group of Arizona residents as part of Waymo's its Early Rider program since 2017.
Waymo is considered by many in the industry to be the leader in the development of self driving technology after a decade of self-driving car research funded by Google. The company announced in January that its fleet of self-driving vehicles surpassed 20 million miles of driving on public roads in 25 cities, including Novi, Michigan, San Francisco and Kirkland, Washington.
In addition, the company has virtually driven billions more miles in computer simulation to refine its software as part of its mission to build "the world's most experienced driver."
The progess made by Waymo in autonomous driving has attracted big investments. In March, Waymo raised $2.25 billion in its first ever outside funding round.
For the past seven weeks during the lockdowns, Waymo has continued its work, focusing on hardware and software development, driving in computer simulated environments, and refining its advanced machine learning algorithms.
Waymo's decision to restart its Arizona operations comes after careful consideration and conversations with its internal teams, partners, and local and state authorities, the company said. Waymo wrote in a blog post that the "health and safety of our riders, team, and partners is our number one priority as we begin driving again."
Following guidance from the CDC, Arizona state government, and local authorities, Waymo is taking steps to ensure our team's well-being, following guidelines to help prevent the spread and coming in contact with the coronavirus.
Waymo made changes to its facilities in order to respect social distancing guidelines, including spacing out work areas to abide by the recommended six feet of social distancing, redefining use of common areas, and limiting maximum capacity for our spaces. Company employees will also wear face masks in Waymo facilities or vehicles, with the exception of single occupancy vehicles.
In partnership with automotive retailer AutoNation, Waymo is also conducting multiple daily cleanings of its vehicles. AutoNation was chosen by Waymo to service and maintain its fleet autonomous vehicles, which includes Chrysler Pacifica minivans and Jaguar i-Pace SUVs.
Following the redeployment in Arizona, Waymo plans to resume its testing and data collection in San Francisco, Detroit, and Los Angeles and will follow all CDC and state and local guidelines.
Waymo has had a presence in Arizona since at least 2016, mapping streets and testing its autonomous technology in preparation for the launch of its Waymo One service.
In addition to developing self-driving cars and a commercial robotaxi service, Waymo is developing driverless trucks for the shipping industry. The company announced its shipping service called Waymo Via in March, which is focused on "all forms of goods delivery."
Before the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Waymo was busy mapping highways in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas for its long-haul autonomous trucks.
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