A Google Waymo self-driving Lexus on the road in Arizona
Waymo currently only operates its service to the public in the East Valley region of Phoenix. The announcement comes as critics question the progress made by the company and industry.
“When we think about our next cities, Los Angeles jumps out,” said Waymo’s co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana in Wednesday’s blog post. “LA is a remarkable, vibrant place – and Waymo’s experience leaves us best positioned to tackle its driving complexity.”
The company said it has already started driving around the city to collect mapping data. That process involves humans driving the cars down streets while sensors gather information on crosswalks, road edges, curb heights and intersections, according to a Waymo spokesperson.
Waymo said service will first begin with safety drivers behind the wheel and, later, with just Waymo employees as riders. It will begin public testing after it gathers permits and feedback. The company declined to provide even a rough timeline of when it expects those milestones to happen.
The timeline is still unclear
The self-driving car industry has been slow to progress and live up to lofty promises, but that’s especially true of Waymo.
The 12-year-old company launched its ride-hailing service in 2018 in Phoenix and has been slow to make progress outside of the limited East Valley Phoenix region.
Waymo assured the press and public that the technology was coming rapidly, even back in 2012 when it was still known as Google’s self-driving car project. “Fully self-driving cars are here,” former CEO John Krafcik said at the 2017 Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, where he presented a video of a man who fell asleep in one of the Waymo vehicles. “It’s not happening in 2020, it’s happening today.”
In 2019, Morgan Stanley cut its valuation on Waymo by 40%, from $175 billion to $105 billion, saying that it underestimated the heavy reliance the company still had on human drivers after CNBC reporting found that Waymo still largely relied on human safety drivers and still required community buy-in.
In August of last year, the company announced it was coming to San Francisco. But, the cars, most of which still have safety drivers, are still not available to the public or people outside of its approved testing participants. Those riders took tens of thousands of manned trips in the last year, according to a spokesperson. Waymo announced plans in March to remove safety drivers for fully-autonomous rides, but those are still only available to Waymo employees, the spokesperson confirmed.
Anthony Levandowski, a well-known albeit controversial self-driving vehicle engineer who co-founded Waymo’s self-driving program before it was renamed, said the lack of progress in the industry shows it won’t be a viable business anytime soon. He added that the industry still has “such a long way to go.”
Some investors have still shown interest in recent years.
Waymo announced in March 2020 that it raised $2.25 billion in its first external funding round. By July 2020, it said it raised a total of $3.2 billion after an extension of that round. Last year, it raised another $2.5 billion from investors including parent company Alphabet and Andreessen Horowitz.