April 5, 2023
Waymo has made a couple of major announcements as it continues the rollout of its robotaxi operations.
First, it has confirmed that its fleet is going all-electric – spelling the end for the hybrid Chrysler Pacifica minivans that have become a familiar sight in the East Valley in Phoenix, Arizona over the past few years.
In addition, the company, owned by Google parent Alphabet, has also expanded its testing program to Austin, Texas.
The transition to an all-EV fleet coincides with the deployment of the Jaguar i-Pace, fitted with the company’s fifth-generation Waymo Driver tech, to eastern suburbs such as Chandler, Tempe and Mesa in Phoenix. Previously, the Pacifica was used there.
Waymo’s i-Pace is being used elsewhere in Phoenix, taking passengers between the city’s Sky Harbor International Airport and the downtown area.
As the company pointed out, the fleet update will enable it to join the White House EV Acceleration Challenge – an initiative from President Biden’s administration to promote the transition to electrified transportation.
Although the Pacifica has in some ways become synonymous with Waymo’s self-driving program, its retirement is not entirely unexpected.
Late last year, the company revealed it is developing a purpose-built, electric autonomous vehicle capable of Level 4 self-driving on a platform from Chinese brand Zeekr.
And it pointed out: “Focusing our service on an all i-Pace fleet helps us better optimize our technical and operational support to be more efficient in the near term as we prepare future vehicles like the Zeekr mobility platform.
“Our machine learning-based fifth-generation Waymo Driver learns more with every mile traveled, so deploying our existing i-Pace fleet into the East Valley will only further advance the performance and reliability of the driver as we continue to scale.”
Meanwhile, the testing program in Austin marks a return to the city where it all started for Waymo in October 2015, when the Firefly prototype vehicle, fitted with the first generation of Waymo Driver, drove fully autonomously with a passenger for the first time.
Now the company is set to deploy a fleet of i-Paces in several areas across the center and east of the city, including downtown, Rainey Street, Clarksville, Bouldin Creek, the Market District, Holly and Capitol.
Software Engineer Nathaniel Fairfield said the program will prove useful for Waymo’s operations elsewhere.
“A lot of the experiences you encounter on Austin’s roads are useful for what we’re already doing in San Francisco and Phoenix,” he said. “All three are fast-changing cities with busy downtowns that host a ton of live events.”
Waymo’s major rival, General Motors subsidiary Cruise, has been operating in the city on a limited basis since the end of last year.
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