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World’s first commercial robo-taxi service launched by Waymo

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A few months ago, the Californian Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) passed ground-breaking regulations authorising two new programs to allow driverless ride-hailing. Whilst the world is still yet to get its head around driverless vehicles, California is miles ahead and has long been ground zero for autonomous vehicle testing for quite some time.

The CPUC who are in charge of regulations for AVs in fleet services, has been creating new rules for two programs – the Delivered and Driverless Autonomous Vehicle Deployment Program. Waymo, has officially launched the world’s first commercial robotaxi-service, Waymo One.

Whilst California has very stringent regulations for AV operators forcing them to disclose every detail when driving, the state is home to most of the AV engineers, so they have little choice but to obey the state laws.

  • According to the Verge, “Five companies – Cruise, Waymo, Nuro, Zoox, and AutoX – have an additional permit that allows them to test fully driverless vehicles without human safety drivers behind the wheel on public roads.”

    Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet, is expanding its robo-taxi services around Phoenix and San Francisco area. Waymo One is believed to be the most advanced autonomous car company in the world. Ride-hailing service members will have access to driverless robo-taxis. Riders can also bring along family and friends to enjoy the ride.

    The driverless car company says “in the near term, 100% of our rides will be fully driverless.” Waymo’s robo-taxis operate at Level 4 autonomy. Level 4 is considered to be fully autonomous driving, although a human driver can still request control, and the car still has a cockpit. Level 5 autonomy is the holy grail of autonomous driving. It’s when cars can drive themselves anywhere, under any conditions, without any human supervision. At this level the vehicle needs no human control at all.  

    According to ZDNET, “Waymo’s robo-taxi service has been open to the general public since October last year. It first began as a trial in 2017 and, in early 2020, the company decided to no longer have safety drivers behind the wheel nor remote operators in the lead-up to the general public rollout.”

    Last month, Waymo received $2.25 billion through its initial external funding round led  by by Silver Lake, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Mubadala Investment Company, with additional investors including Magna International, Andreessen Horowitz, and AutoNation, as well as Alphabet.

    When we combine these cutting-edge technologies; autonomous driving, electric vehicles and battery tech, the Gig economy is on the verge of brand new auto industry, slated to take place all during the next decade. This tech revolution will touch virtually everyone in every industry. The recent $2.5bn capital raising has pundits believing the company is preparing to transition to a larger, more densely populated city-likely San Francisco.

    What this does do, is transform years of autonomous vehicle research into a revenue-producing business. At the moment, car sales numbers are in decline shrinking from +$17m to just $11.5m by 2025. This is the same level as in 2008/09 which caused GM and Chrysler to go bankrupt.

    However, all is not lost. The potential opportunity lies in the rise of shared, driverless robot taxis.  According to UBS estimates are for revenue in 2030 to fall in between $1.3tn and $2.8tn – if robo-taxis make up for 12%. Car companies earn about $2k per car sale. Whereas robo-taxis can earn 20-25 cents per kilometre.

    Waymo says its program will open the public by the end of the year and plans to increase the ride service fleet with vehicles that use self-driving technology. According to industry estimates, by 2040, it is predicted that four out of every 10 vehicles on the road will be autonomous in Australia.




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