Waymo, Alphabet Inc.'s driverless-vehicle unit, plans to expand its robo-taxi service to Los Angeles, the third region where it will be offered.
The company will follow the same playbook for the service, called Waymo One, that it has elsewhere, according to an announcement Wednesday. Local employees will try the program first, followed by so-called "trusted testers" who sign nondisclosure agreements, followed by unaccompanied, paying members of the public. Waymo One is already open to the general public in the Phoenix metro area and is in the advanced testing stage in the more crowded downtown areas of Phoenix and San Francisco.
Robo-taxi services are gradually debuting in more U.S. cities, though they remain far from mainstream adoption. Waymo's chief rival, Cruise LLC, the self-driving car startup majority-owned by General Motors, said in September that it plans to expand its robo-taxi business to Phoenix and Austin, Texas, in the coming months, with a target of adding $1 billion in revenue by 2025.
Waymo has priced its service to be competitive with other ride-hailing companies, Chief Product Officer Saswat Panigrahi said in an interview. He added that the margins of the business are improving, in part due to the lower cost of sensors in the latest generation of the company's technology. The amount of additional testing the company needs to conduct before launching in new markets is also declining, Panigrahi said.
"We are getting better and better at understanding what the cost of operations is," he said.
As for when the service will begin in L.A., a Waymo spokesperson told Automotive News that there is "no timeline to share now.
"We will take the coming months to continue gathering learnings from our operations and refining the Waymo Driver in the city, and follow our playbook that we've developed over multiple past city entries. We will ramp up responsibly and with safety in mind every step of the way.
"Our mapping and data collection process is already underway, in which we manually drive our sensor-equipped vehicles down the streets, so our sensors can capture features of the new environment, such as crosswalks, road edges, curb heights, boundary paint, intersections and more; features that are not typically in maps used by people to navigate the road. We put those maps through quality control testing, before using them to guide our vehicles in simulation and also driving in the real world, which we'll begin in the coming months ahead."
Pete Bigelow contributed