Waymo launches driverless rides for employees in Austin

Waymo will start letting its autonomous vehicles traverse Austin without a safety operator behind the wheel as of tomorrow, a crucial step before the company opens the program up to the public.

The company announced Tuesday that it will begin shuttling employees around 43 square miles of the Texas capital, including the Barton Hills, Riverside, East Austin and Hyde Park neighborhoods, as well as downtown Austin.

The step forward comes just a few days after Waymo won the ability to start charging for rides in expanded territory across both Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Waymo didn’t offer a timeline for when it plans to start offering autonomous rides to the citizens of Austin. When it does, it will become the fourth city where the company’s robotaxis are officially in operation, following LA, SF, and Phoenix.

Waymo continues to steadily expand its autonomous ride-hailing program, which it calls Waymo One, even as other companies in the space have struggled. GM-owned Cruise is currently under investigation from myriad state and federal agencies over how it handled an October crash with a pedestrian. Ford-backed Argo AI went out of business. And many of the once-prominent Chinese AV startups have slowed or stopped testing in the U.S.

Waymo has had issues itself. Just last month, one of the company’s autonomous vehicles collided with a cyclist in San Francisco — an incident that the California Department of Motor Vehicles is investigating. The company also recently issued a recall for its autonomous software after two AVs in the Phoenix area crashed into the same towed truck late last year.

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