Waymo's autonomous rideshare service enters testing phase in Los Angeles ahead of planned rollout

Josh Haskell Image
Thursday, February 16, 2023
Waymo's autonomous rideshare service in testing phase for LA launch
Waymo is betting that no driver may be the safest option as the company prepares to roll out its fully autonomous rideshare service in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Could the most experienced, safest driver on the road be ... no driver at all?

That's what the company Waymo is betting on as it prepares to roll out its fully autonomous rideshare service in Los Angeles.

And some road-safety advocates agree: the technology makes Waymo's electric vehicles safer than if a human were driving.

"L.A.'s the deadliest major city in the U.S. for traffic violence. It's the reason why we have the highest number of fatalities on record last year," said Damian Kevitt, the executive director and founder of Streets Are For Everyone. "Something has to change in terms of the amount of traffic violence and the amount of fatalities. Autonomous vehicles is a new technology and I know that it's not going to be perfect, but it's definitely statistically way better than drivers out there."

Waymo's rideshare service has already launched in Phoenix and San Francisco.

In Los Angeles, Waymo's vehicles are in the testing phase as they await the proper permits. So an autonomous specialist -- otherwise known as a human -- is in the driver's seat just in case. But they're not driving the car.

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"We drive millions of miles on the road, and so we accrue a lot of different experiences and different types of road conditions, whether that's high-traffic conditions in different scenarios. Where for example, maybe a kid playing with a ball loses it and runs across the street," said Vishay Nihilani, who works for Waymo. "This car is always attentive, understands what's happening on the road, can predict the reactions of other drivers, and as a result can react faster and smoother than a human driver could."

Riding in a Waymo, passengers don't have to worry about whether their driver will be distracted by their cellphone. Or whether the driver will get angry, tired, or whether or not they'll be sober.

During an ABC7 reporter's recent ride in a Waymo vehicle, when it found itself behind a stalled car, it knew to go around. If a rider gets into trouble, there's a support feature where someone from the company checks on them and can do everything from calling 911 to changing the rider's destination.

"That spinning lidar is seeing 360 degrees, up to 300 meters and is always active," Nihilani said, referring to a remote sensing device on mounted on the roof of a Waymo car. "It sees just as well at night as it does during the day -- unlike human eyes and unlike cameras."