Waymo seeking passengers for free autonomous ride hailing test rides in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Starting this week, some passengers will be able to hail and ride in an autonomous vehicle in San Francisco. Waymo has been testing the technology on city streets for 12 years and now is ready for testing with passengers.

Here's how you can sign up and what Waymo expects back for the free ride.

It's a big step forward for Waymo and for trusting passengers. The new phase of its test program is inviting adults to apply on his mobile app to hail rides for free in its electric Jaguar SUVs.

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"In exchange for feedback, we want to make sure we get a diverse set of opinions, a diverse set of feedback with people with varying mobility needs and perspectives," Waymo's senior product manager Sam Kansara says. "And so this is the right step for us because it's an important part of being able to make sure we build a product that satisfies the needs of the community where we operate."

While the SUV is operating autonomously, using multiple cameras and laser technologies to guide it, a driver will remain at the wheel to intervene if needed.

Waymo has been operating a similar test with passengers for two years outside Phoenix. But San Francisco's sometimes narrow and congested streets will be more challenging. The volume of pedestrians and bicycles will also add complexity.

The trusted tester program will be limited to certain neighborhoods, such as the Sunset, the Richmond, Noe Valley and the Castro. It's a big step toward making autonomous vehicle ride sharing a viable commercial service. Hearing from passengers will provide insights into their confidence and its safety.

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"Tell us about what you're seeing on the screen and how that how that makes you feel or tell us about the drive itself," said Kansara. "Tell us about maybe an interesting thing that happened along the way and your reaction to it."

Waymo isn't saying how long the free rides will last. It's estimated Waymo vehicles have been logging about 100,000 miles per week in San Francisco.

A person fell off a scooter during a collision with a Waymo vehicle in San Francisco in June, but was not injured. The vehicle was not in autonomous mode at the time.

In time, as testing continues, the backup driver may not be needed, and the trip could be truly navigated autonomously.

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