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March 31, 2023

Expanding Waymo’s testing to the city that keeps it weird

  • Company News
Waymo expanding to Austin Texas
Waymo expanding to Austin Texas

On October 20, 2015, Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, became the first person in the world to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle—with no human driver behind the wheel. And he did so on residential streets in Austin, in Waymo’s Firefly prototype vehicle—the first generation of our Waymo Driver.

Since then, tens of thousands more people have experienced riding in our fully autonomous vehicles. Our Waymo One ride-hail service is open to members of the public in both Phoenix and San Francisco, and the Waymo Driver has even been helping people get to the airport and around the Super Bowl.

Now, the Waymo Driver is back in Austin. A lot’s changed since we were last here—not least that there are now 30% more people living in metro Austin, the second-fastest growing metro area in America.

We’re building our technology to drive anywhere—any city, one driver. So the lessons we learn from Austin will help us improve the Waymo Driver everywhere we operate, both today and in the future.

Over the next few months, we’ll begin testing our fifth-generation driver, on the Jaguar I-PACE platform, across central and East Austin, including downtown, Rainey Street, Clarksville, Bouldin Creek, the Market District, Holly, and the Capitol.

Our goal is to learn as much as we can from Austin’s busy, growing and diverse neighborhoods. Nathaniel Fairfield, Distinguished Software Engineer at Waymo, who helped lead the team that made that first Firefly ride in Austin possible, says, “A lot of the experiences you encounter on Austin’s roads are useful for what we’re already doing in San Francisco and Phoenix. All three are fast-changing cities with busy downtowns that host a ton of live events.”

“But there’s also a uniquely Austin flavor—not just the pedicabs, or the bats and all the squirrels, but the pedestrian traffic on The Drag, navigating weekend traffic around Sixth Street, or the way the road layouts change between neighborhoods.”

We’ve driven in dozens of cities over the years to improve the Waymo Driver. Lessons we’ve learned from testing in a range of weather conditions in Miami, New York City and Bellevue, for instance, have improved our driving in heavier rain. We’re eager to reacquaint ourselves with the city where Waymo made history as we deepen our experience even further.

We’re also looking to help serve the community by connecting with local organizations that share our commitment to improving road safety and access to mobility, including Farm&City's Texas Vision Zero Summit, Central Texas Families for Safe Streets, Safe Streets Austin, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

We’re incredibly excited that Austin is part of the Waymo story again, four generations of the Waymo Driver later. See you at the SoCo food trucks!