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Waymo puts its self-driving cars back on Arizona roads as lockdown is eased

Waymo says it’s ready to return its self-driving cars to the streets of Arizona.

The autonomous-car company paused most of its public-road testing in March in response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, the company parked cars that picked up passengers as part of its Waymo One ridesharing pilot, as well as those that drove without passengers but required a safety engineer to be on board. Vehicles that could operate safely without an engineer remained on the streets, though only a small number of these have been operating.

With Arizona governor Doug Ducey this week announcing an imminent loosening of lockdown restrictions in the state, Waymo said that from Monday, May 11, it will begin to restart its testing program in Phoenix as part of a tiered approach to resuming operations.

“We’re beginning to restart our driving operations in the Metro Phoenix area after careful consideration and active conversations with our teams, partners, and local and state authorities,” the Alphabet-owned company said in a blog post on Thursday, May 7, adding, “The health and safety of our riders, team, and partners is our number one priority as we begin driving again.”

After discussing its planned resumption with local officials, Waymo said it intends to observe social distancing rules at its workplace, and implement new personal health and and safety training for its employees. Increased cleaning and disinfection will also take place, and workers will have their health monitored for any signs of the coronavirus.

Waymo, which started life as a Google project in 2009, revealed it will also be returning its autonomous vehicles to the streets of San Francisco, Detroit, and Los Angeles in the coming weeks in line with gradual moves to restart operations.

The company will be keen to continue testing the latest version of its autonomous technology, which it unveiled just a couple of months ago.

While its autonomous vehicles have sat idle, Waymo has been able to continue with simulated testing of its technology. The set-up allows its team to “drive” around 20 million miles in just one day, and to date it’s covered more than 15 billion miles in simulation. But of course, there’s nothing quite like real-world testing, and so Waymo will be real pleased to get back on the road in the coming days and weeks.

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