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Google Self-Driving Spinoff Waymo Starts Testing Jaguar Robotaxi In San Francisco

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc, the parent company of the Silicon Valley-based search-engine giant Google, is expanding its autonomous ride-hailing service to San Francisco.

The company announced Aug. 24 that selected "trusted tester" customers in the city by the bay will be able to hail a ride in self-driving Jaguar I-PACE sport utility vehicles. The robotaxis initially will serve the more residential western and southern portions of the city, including Richmond and Bernal Heights.

For now the vehicles will have human backup drivers on board. But at some point, the company says it plans to run the vehicles without them.

The approach is similar to what Waymo did in Phoenix when it started a limited ride-hailing service in 2017. The company says it has given thousands of fully autonomous rides in its fully driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans around metro Phoenix since October of 2020.

The launch in Phoenix followed three years of testing. Sam Kansara, senior product manager at Waymo, acknowledges that autonomous vehicles are rolling out slower than Waymo and its many rivals had originally envisioned.

"There's a lot that remains to be done. This is a step about starting to now get more information so that we can inform our roadmap," he said, adding that he hopes lessons learned from that experience will bring about swifter progress in San Francisco.

The company hopes to get feedback from people with differing backgrounds and commuting needs. It expects many riders will weigh in on challenges related to San Francisco's limited curb space and rampant double parking. Waymo bars them from publicly discussing the rides.

Anybody can sign up to test Waymo's ride-hailing app, but the company is hand-selecting who it picks up. The list is expected to gradually grow to hundreds of people.

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