Waymo is expanding its autonomous vehicle development efforts in the U.S. The 2021 RBR50 Robotics Innovation Award winner is opening an office in Pittsburgh, joining a group of competitors already based in the Steel City.
Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving car project that’s now an independent business under Alphabet, will reportedly hire about 20 employees. The first batch of employees comes from RobotWits, a Pittsburgh-based startup that develops planning and decision-making technologies for autonomous vehicles. Waymo reportedly didn’t acquire RobotWits outright, but it did acquire the company’s IP.
According to TechCrunch, there are no current plans to deploy Waymo’s robotaxis or autonomous trucks in Pittsburgh yet. “Instead, the new team will work on motion planning development, real-time route planning and developing [the autonomous vehicle technology] Driver.”
Some of Waymo’s biggest competitors have been based in Pittsburgh for some time. Those include Aurora, which recently announced it’s going public via SPAC, Motional and Argo AI. Argo just announced a partnership with Lyft to deploy robotaxi trips in Austin and Miami. There will be human safety drivers in the vehicles to start. Argo said it expects its first driverless cars to launch in 2023.
Top academic institutions. Strong engineering talent. World-class robotics experts.
Pittsburgh has all of these and more, and it’s why we’re excited to announce that we’re hiring for our newest location in the City of Bridges. See our new roles: https://t.co/U95ssAFdXb pic.twitter.com/XJPgRfsboF
— Waymo (@Waymo) July 22, 2021
Pittsburgh has established itself as a leading source of engineering talent for autonomous vehicles, thanks in large part to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Back in 2015, Uber opened a research lab in Pittsburgh and poached 40 researchers from CMU‘s well-known National Robotics Engineering Center. Uber donated $5.5 million to CMU to support a new faculty chair in robotics and three graduate fellowships. Uber in December 2020 sold its autonomous vehicle division to Aurora.
Waymo’s Pittsburgh location will join its network of offices in Mountain View, San Francisco, Phoenix, New York, Dallas and Hyderabad, India. Waymo has tested autonomous vehicles in more than 25 U.S. cities. It has nine offices, including one in the United Kingdom and one in India.
In October 2020, Waymo opened its Level 4 driverless robotaxi service, called Waymo One, to the general public in the Phoenix metropolitan area. The driverless Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans operate in about a 50-square-mile area in the suburbs of Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, and Tempe.
Waymo has been testing its autonomous vehicles around Phoenix for years. Since 2017, some of the cars have had nobody behind the wheel, but that was only for certain tests and select riders. But now anybody can take a paid ride in a Waymo One driverless robotaxi around the clock, seven days a week.
Waymo expanded its robotaxi tests to San Francisco in February 2021. “We’re beginning with a limited number of cars and riders and will scale over time. These rides are being offered with a single-vehicle operator,” a Waymo spokesperson said at the time. “We don’t have any specific timelines to share about when (or where) we’ll be offering a public service. It’s worth bearing in mind this is for early product testing and continuous improvement, and there are many further steps we’d need to go through … before we could deploy a service to the public.”