Waymo, a Google Spinoff, Ramps Up Its Driverless-Car Effort

Waymo, the autonomous-car company spun out of Google, announced a new alliance on Tuesday that would vastly expand its effort to ramp up a driverless ride service over the next two years.

The company said it planned to buy as many as 20,000 electric cars from Jaguar Land Rover and outfit them with the radars, cameras and sensors it has developed to enable the vehicles to drive themselves on public roads.

The cars will be used in a ride-hailing service that Waymo plans start in Phoenix by the end of this year and then roll out in other cities across the United States, John Krafcik, Waymo’s chief executive, said in a statement issued in conjunction with an event at the New York International Auto Show.

Eventually, the company said, it hopes to provide a million rides a day.

The announcement comes about a week after an autonomous vehicle operated by the ride-hailing service Uber struck and killed a pedestrian crossing a street in Tempe, Ariz., at night. The accident involved a Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle that Uber had outfitted with radar, cameras and other sensors and computer gear to enable it to navigate without input from a driver.

Although a safety driver was in the Uber vehicle at the time, it was in autonomous mode when it struck and killed Elaine Herzberg, 49, on March 18. It is believed to be first pedestrian death associated with a self-driving car.

The governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, ordered Uber on Monday to suspend testing its autonomous cars in the state. The company had already suspended testing in Arizona, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Toronto.

The Uber crash prompted Toyota Motor to suspend testing its self-driving cars on public roads as a precaution, although Ford Motor and General Motors said they are proceeding with their efforts. Ford and G.M. are racing to develop driverless cars for use in ride services, and G.M. aims to start its service by the end of next year.

On Saturday, Mr. Krafcik said he believed Waymo’s technology would have been able to detect the pedestrian and prevent the fatal crash. “We have a lot of confidence that our technology would be robust and would be able to handle situations like that one,” he said at a gathering of the National Automobile Dealers Association in Las Vegas.

Waymo has been testing autonomous vehicles on public roads since 2009, when it was Google’s self-driving car project. It is now part of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Waymo says its cars — a fleet of more than 600 test vehicles, most of them Chrysler Pacifica minivans — have driven more than five million miles while Uber says its cars have covered three million miles in testing.

Waymo agreed to use the new Jaguar I-Pace for the service it announced Tuesday. The I-Pace is a battery-powered hatchback that was unveiled this month and is set to go into production this year at a plant in Austria.

Waymo will import the vehicles and add its self-driving technology in the United States. After testing, it expects to start its ride service by the end of 2018.

Content originally published on https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/27/business/waymo-driverless.html by NEAL E. BOUDETTE