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Waymo boosts robo-taxi plans with new service center in Arizona

With robo-taxis and similar services expected to become a common feature of city life in the coming years, the companies behind them are increasingly turning their attention to creating the necessary infrastructure required for their smooth operation. This includes, for example, facilities for repairing and maintaining the large number of autonomous taxis that could hit the streets in the not-so-distant future.

With such initiatives in mind, Waymo has just announced plans for a new technical service center in Mesa, Arizona, one of the Phoenix suburbs where it currently tests its fleet of autonomous vehicles. Spun out of Google’s self-driving program in 2016, Waymo has been making huge strides in the testing of autonomous vehicles, and last December became the first company to charge regular folks for rides in self-driving “Waymo One” cars, which include human backup drivers for now.

The 85,000-square-feet service center will focus on Waymo One operations and be home to support teams aimed at keeping the fleet of autonomous vehicles running smoothly. When it opens later this year, it’s expected to create around 100 jobs locally and will operate alongside its smaller center in nearby Chandler, which opened in 2016.

In a post about the new facility, Waymo said the local area provided the ideal conditions for developing safe and reliable self-driving technology, praising its “broad, yet complex, city streets; a wide-spread suburban population that relies heavily on vehicle transport; and of course, lots of gorgeous sunny days for driving while we also invest in further weather testing.”

In October 2018, Waymo revealed that the prototype self-driving vehicles in its fleet had reached 10 million miles of testing on public roads in the space of nine years. Also, data from California’s Department of Motor Vehicles showed that for 2018, Waymo had the lowest disengagement rate (where a safety driver has to take over) of the 48 autonomous-vehicle companies that reported such figures, with GM Cruise showing the second best performance.

Speaking of GM Cruise, the company recently announced plans to double the team working on its driverless-car technology as it seeks to follow in Waymo’s footsteps with the launch a robo-taxi service by the end of 2019. Ford, too, is investing heavily in autonomous technology, and aims to have a taxi or delivery service operating “at scale” by 2021.

A recent study by Navigant Research listed Waymo, GM Cruise, and Ford as the main three players in the race to launch large-scale commercial services using autonomous vehicles. To arrive at its rankings, the study examined 10 criteria that included technical capability and business-plan viability.

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