Courtesy of the ongoing pandemic, Waymo is going back to the future with its Waymo one autonomous ride service. The company is going to resume sending the vehicles back out on the roads around Phoenix, but with drivers only — no passengers.
The company suspended drives in March, but starting May 11, a small portion of the company’s fleet of white Chrysler Pacifica minivans will be roaming the roads again, collecting data and implementing new technology the company’s been working on for the last two months.
And while the vehicles will be equipped with the latest and greatest updates, they will not carry passengers as state and CDC guidelines don’t allow for that kind of activity yet. Waymo officials are uncertain when the shuttles will be able to take passengers again.
Waymo has been working to institute new procedures for its employees for their return to week next week.
In addition to making the self-driving minivans eschew passengers – beyond the test driver – the company has implemented new rules and protocols designed to keep its employees safe. Employees at the company’s facilities are required to employ social distancing techniques as much as possible.
The company’s work areas have been spaced six feet apart, and the use of common areas has been “redefined.” Waymo also now has placed maximum capacity limits on those spaces.
Employees will undergo training in the new protocols when they return, and they will wear face masks while they are in Waymo facilities and vehicles, the company noted. Additionally, the sites have been deep cleaned and, in partnership with AutoNation, will receive multiple daily cleanings of Waymo vehicles. Not surprisingly, each employee will be screened by an occupational healthcare provider before starting work.
“We’re taking a thoughtful and measured approach towards bringing our driving operations back on the road,” the company noted in a blog post.
“We’ll begin driving in other cities in the days and weeks to come, including San Francisco, Detroit, and Los Angeles, and the resumption of our driving operations in these locations will similarly be guided by ensuring the safety and health of our team in line with CDC and state and local guidance.”
Waymo has had about 1,000 autonomous vehicles testing in cities across the U.S. That number is expected to jump 10 fold in the next two years as it and other companies race to be the first to develop a Level 5 – completely self driving – autonomous vehicle. In addition to its Waymo One service, the company started Waymo Via this year for automated trucking and urban deliveries.