Waymo will start testing robotaxis on Phoenix highways

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Waymo is about to start testing its driverless passenger vehicles on the highway later this month, a critical milestone for the company that, if successful, will unlock expanded commercial operations. 

The company said Monday that its autonomous Jaguar I-Pace SUVs will begin shuttling employees around the freeways in Phoenix, Arizona in just a few weeks, after having spent much of the last year doing testing with an operator behind the wheel. Driverless highway service will eventually expand to regular customers, the company says, though it didn’t offer a timeline for when that will become available.

Bringing its autonomous cars to the highway is just the latest in a series of big steps for Waymo, especially in the Phoenix area. In December, the company started offering curbside drop-off and pickup at the Phoenix airport. Just a few months before that, Waymo made its autonomous vehicles available in the Uber app.

These moves have come as Waymo’s competition has struggled to keep up, namely Cruise. The GM autonomous vehicle subsidiary recently slashed a quarter of its staff and pushed out a number of executives after a crash in October where one of its robotaxis dragged a pedestrian.

Waymo’s progress hasn’t happened in a perfectly straight line. Last year, the company backed away from its autonomous trucking effort in order to focus more on ride-hailing. The company said Monday that what it learned from the voluminous testing that went into the trucking project, much of which happened in Arizona, is helping it take this step toward fully launching its passenger vehicle program on highways.

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