AUSTIN (KXAN) — After announcing its autonomous vehicle prototype testing in Austin back in April, Waymo is slated to begin initial commercial ride-hail operations in the Texas capital this fall before a more public rollout later on.
Austin marks the company’s fourth ride-hail market, joining the Phoenix metro, San Francisco and Los Angeles, per a company release. Over the past several months, Waymo has tested its all-electric Jaguar I-PACE vehicles in Austin.
Aman Nalavade, Waymo’s group product manager for task expansion and growth, told KXAN Thursday the company had finished its initial testing in the past couple of months and will do a bit more data collection in the fall. In the coming months, he said Waymo will be able to deploy commercial ride-hail services to Austin residents.
Its Austin operations will provide ride-hail services both during the day and in the evenings, with earmarked travel locations including downtown along with the Barton Hills, Riverside, east Austin and Hyde Park neighborhoods.
“Austin is one of the most vibrant and dynamic cities in the country, and we’ve found that the Waymo Driver is adapting to its complex cityscape incredibly quickly,” said Saswat Panigrahi, Chief Product Officer at Waymo, in the release. “Autonomous vehicles make transportation safer, greener and more accessible, and we can’t wait for Austinites to experience these benefits for themselves.”
Nalavade added Waymo looks toward three key pillars when entering new markets: Business opportunities, technical complexities and the regulatory environment of the city.
As one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, he said the sheer population size and ridership base — paired with a dense, downtown core center — will make it a strong environment to test in. Alongside that, he said the City of Austin and state leaders have been receptive to new AV technology emerging.
As new technology comes on the scene, Nalavade said he recognizes there might be many people unfamiliar with AV. For those who’ve never used AV services, Nalavade said he hopes they see Waymo’s vehicles as safe and accessible options for transit and rideshare services.
“This is meant for the people of Austin to be able to get from Point A to Point B in a safe, private space, that allows them to listen to their own music, have their own conversations — feel like it’s their hotel room as they go from Point A to Point B, in a sense,” he said. “This is amazing technology: It allows you to transport yourself, have mobility, in an easy and seamless fashion.”
Even prior to its initial testing operations this spring, this wasn’t Waymo’s first introduction to the Lone Star State. Back in October 2015, Steve Mahan became the first person globally to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle sans driver. He completed the feat in Austin while riding in Waymo’s Firefly prototype.
Nathaniel Fairfield, a distinguished software engineer with Waymo, told KXAN in April that the landmark ride had been a crowning achievement for the company’s AV technology.