Alphabet, Inc. unit Waymo said on Wednesday that it now offers driverless rides to employees in San Francisco, going head-to-head with General Motors Co.-backed rival Cruise in commercializing technology in the city.
Waymo also opened driverless rides to Phoenix-based employees with safety drivers behind the wheel. They are also looking into opening it for public testing.
“Operating fully autonomously in multiple markets — in addition to Waymo’s growing trucking operations — is a critical validator of the scalability of Waymo’s operations and technology,” it said in a statement.
In 2020, Waymo started the first driverless taxi service in the US, more than ten years after the company was conceptualized inside Google in 2008.
Waymo gives paid rides to hundreds of people a week using Chrysler minivans. However, Waymo’s rides remain in suburban Phoenix areas covering about 50 square miles (129.5 square kilometers).
Free autonomous rides were opened in August to a limited number of people in San Francisco using its Jaguar electric vehicles equipped with sensors such as spinning lidars. The rides also had safety drivers on board.
Waymo will need two more permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to begin commercial service.
Waymo declined to comment on whether it had applied for the permits.
On the other hand, Cruise offers fully driverless rides to employees and the public free of charge in San Francisco. The company is also seeking CPUC approval to begin charging their rides and is hoping to get permits this year.
Self-driving technology firms, which have attracted billions of dollars of investments, face challenges scaling up their technology after missing their earlier targets to launch commercial services.