Waymo expands Phoenix service area; Zoox starts testing in Austin and Miami

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Left, Waymo's autonomous robotaxi, and right, Zoox's purpose built autonomous robotaxi.

Left, Waymo’s autonomous robotaxi, and right, Zoox’s purpose-built autonomous robotaxi. | Sources: Waymo, Zoox

It has been an exciting week for the autonomous vehicle industry. Waymo LLC announced that it will be expanding its service area in Phoenix, and Zoox Inc. said it will begin testing in Austin and Miami. Both companies have spent the year so far gradually expanding operations.

In March, Waymo launched its autonomous service in Los Angeles, and Zoox launched operations in Las Vegas. 

Let’s start with Waymo. The Mountain View, Calif.-based unit of Alphabet Inc. is continuing to invest in the city in which it first launched its robotaxi services. The company has added 90 square miles (233 sq. km) to what was already its largest service area in metropolitan Phoenix. 

Waymo said that its riders can now enjoy Waymo One service across 315 square miles (815.8 sq. km) of the Valley. The expanded service area reaches further into North Phoenix and as far as Desert Ridge. 

“Metro Phoenix holds a special place in Waymo’s history and our hearts,” stated Saswat Panigrahi, chief product officer at Waymo. “It’s a privilege to continue serving Phoenicians and visitors alike, and our team is excited to offer access to even more popular destinations across the Valley.”

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Inside Waymo’s expanded Phoenix service area

Waymo’s new service area covers more of Scottsdale’s resorts and expands to downtown Mesa. This gives riders access to desert attractions, golf courses, and downtown destinations such as the Mesa Arts Center and Pioneer Park. 

In a first for the company, Waymo has also established a partnership with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC). Its vehicles will be able to operate on tribal land as part of the agreement. Riders can now access the Talking Stick Entertainment District, which features the Talking Stick Resort, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, TopGolf, and more. 

“The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is excited to announce its partnership with Waymo,” said SRPMIC President Martin Harvier. “This collaboration marks a significant step forward in our commitment to innovation and sustainable solutions.”

“Waymo’s proven track record in developing and deploying autonomous technologies gives us confidence that this initiative will revolutionize the way people travel within our city, enhancing accessibility, safety, and efficiency for residents and visitors alike,” he added.

The company has more expansions coming on the horizon. It recently gave Waymo employees 24/7 access to curbside terminal pickup and drop-offs at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Waymo said it intends to offer this service to public riders soon. 

Currently, Waymo riders can access terminals directly from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. MT, or they can use the 24th St and 44th St PHX Sky Train Stations at all hours of the day. The company is also offering services in San Francisco and plans to expand in Austin, Texas, while scaling back its Waymo Via shipping across the Southwest.

A map comparing Waymo's previous Phoenix service area to its expanded service area.

A map comparing Waymo’s previous Phoenix service area with its expanded service area. | Source: Waymo

Zoox expands testing to two cities

While Zoox isn’t as far along in its deployment journey as Waymo is, the Foster City, Calif.-based company has been making steady progress. Austin and Miami will mark the fourth and fifth public testing locations for the Amazon subsidiary

Zoox began operating in San Francisco in 2018, and then it expanded to Las Vegas in 2019 and to Seattle in 2021. 

“We’re laying the foundations for our autonomous ride-hailing service in new cities across the U.S.,” said Rone Thaniel, senior director of policy and regulatory affairs at Zoox. “Austin and Miami offer key learning opportunities that will support the continued growth and refinement of our testing and service.” 

The company said it plans to enter these two new cities with care. Zoox will first conduct a brief mapping mission. Once this is finished, it will begin deploying its retrofitted Toyota Highlander test fleet, equipped with safety drivers, in small areas near the business and entertainment districts of two cities. This initial deployment will allow it to gather valuable insights and feedback. 

While this process may seem similar to those of other robotaxi companies, Zoox has unique plans for its eventual commercial deployments, which it said will still happen in Las Vegas and San Francisco first.

The company is developing a purpose-built robotaxi with no steering wheel, brakes, or even driver’s seat. Zoox asserted that it is committed to only providing commercial services in these vehicles. 

Because these vehicles can never be operated by safety drivers, Zoox acknowledged that it’s even more important  to do extensive testing to refine its autonomous driving system. To do this, the company has identified specific, pre-planned routes that it said offer the most challenging driving features and scenarios.

At the same time, it will be testing randomly selected point-to-point routes within a defined, geofenced area. 

Zoox noted that Austin and Miami both offer unique opportunities and valuable challenges that will help it to refine its driving. Austin has horizontal traffic lights, traffic lights hanging on wires, railway crossings, and strong thunderstorms.

Miami, on the other hand, has traffic lights that are suspended diagonally across intersections, said Zoox. 

As before, the company will start with its focused testing areas in each city, and then methodically expand as its AI gets more familiar with driving conditions in each city. Zoox added that it is working closely with local officials, regulators, and residents to ensure safe and seamless integration of its autonomous vehicles into these cities.

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