Waymo, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., has announced it will soon expand the testing grounds of its fleet of robotaxis onto the freeways of Phoenix, Arizona, for the first time.
In an announcement on its website on Monday, Waymo says it driverless Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicles (EVs) will begin extensive testing on Phoenix’s freeways in the coming weeks. Unlike Waymo One, which is accessible to regular customers, the initial phase of autonomous freeway tests will be limited to company employees and their guests.
Waymo plans to open up this service to the public once the vehicles accumulate sufficient road time without incidents. Data collected during these tests will be utilized to optimize routes, with a focus on enhancing transportation efficiency around Phoenix airports.
The move to expand driverless rides to freeways comes after extensive testing over the past year with an operator behind the wheel.
Until now, Waymo’s robotaxis have been limited to surface streets, resulting in some rides taking twice as long as a normal taxi would with a human driver that routes along a freeway. Waymo provided this example, showing a trip from Sky Harbor International Airport to the northeastern area of Phoenix will soon take half as much time with their robotaxis navigate using freeways.
In a move signaling Waymo’s steady progress, the company recently introduced curbside drop-off and pickup services at the Phoenix airport, expanding its footprint in the region. Moreover, Waymo integrated its autonomous vehicles into the Uber app a few months before.
Waymo has maintained an impressive safety record, with its driverless vehicles traveling over seven million miles in California and Arizona, resulting in only three minor injuries. This stands in contrast to the challenges faced by rivals, such as Cruise, which have experienced a significant setback in recent months after an incident in which a pedestrian was dragged underneath one of its robotaxis.