Waymo just announced it’s ready to start testing driverless vehicles on highways and freeways. The experiments start in and around Phoenix in the next few weeks and include the autonomous Jaguar I-Pace SUV. The company had already partnered with Uber to offer driverless taxis throughout the city, but the vehicles were restricted to city streets at low speeds. Now, these robo-taxis will be careening down the highway, bringing us one step closer to a world where we won’t have to sully ourselves with the task of driving.
Unlike the Waymo One service, which is available to regular customers, these autonomous highway tests will only be available to company employees and their guests. This will change when the vehicles have been on the road for a while without any serious incidents. Waymo says the data collected during these tests will be used to provide faster routes throughout the area, with a particular emphasis on Phoenix airports.
The company’s cars had already been allowed on highways, but only with a specialist in the front seat to handle any issues. This next step removes the specialist, for a true self-driving experience. Waymo says it has been incrementally ramping up testing on freeways throughout the past year to get ready for this move.
The company touts the speed of highway driving over local streets, saying that a trip to Sky Harbor Airport from the northern parts of Scottsdale will be twice as fast on AZ-101 compared to local routes. This is obvious and the reason why highways exist in the first place. Still, customers have long been unsatisfied with autonomous vehicles’ penchant for side streets and slow speeds.
To that end, Waymo hasn’t announced any speed limits for highway driving or if there are any maximum distance limits. Engadget reached out to Waymo for more information and will update this post when we hear back. The company has been offering driverless rides in Phoenix since 2020. It also has quite a sterling reputation when it comes to safety. Waymo’s own safety data, as reported by Ars Technica, indicated its driverless vehicles traveled over seven million miles in California and Arizona, with only three minor injuries.
Driverless rival Cruise hasn’t been so lucky. In October, a Cruise robotaxi was involved in an incident in which a woman was dragged underneath a vehicle. There have also been reports that the self-driving algorithm had trouble recognizing children. This all led to the CEO resigning, multiple layoffs and, eventually, a hiatus of the service.