Waymo is hitting the open road and bringing some of its self-driving minivans and long-haul trucks to two new states. The Alphabet subsidiary said in a tweet on Thursday that it would deploy a portion of its fleet in Texas and New Mexico as it seeks to learn about new road conditions and environments. It also feeds into Waymo’s ultimate quest to gain a toehold in more markets for the eventual launch of a commercial business.
Waymo didn’t specify in which cities it will start testing its vehicles, nor did it explain what type of testing it will conduct. For example, last year, Waymo brought three of its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to Los Angeles but only to map the downtown area.
It’s especially notable that Waymo’s autonomous tractor-trailers are being deployed in two new states. The company has previously only tested its Class 8 trucks in California, Arizona, and Georgia, so the territorial expansion is sure to be good news for Waymo’s stated plans to eventually launch a commercial freight hauling business.
“These are interesting and promising commercial routes, and we’ll be using our vehicles to explore how the Waymo Driver might be able to create new transportation solutions,” the company says. (“Waymo Driver” is the company’s shorthand for its autonomous vehicle hardware and software system.)
The company isn’t a complete stranger to the great state of Texas. Waymo’s groundbreaking demonstration of its prototype Firefly vehicle with no steering wheel or pedals took place in Austin in October 2015. The company kept an office in the city until November 2019 when it abruptly shut it down. A reported 100 employees and contract workers lost their jobs as part of the decision, according to CNBC.
Perhaps more intriguingly, though, was a sneak peek at the company’s next-generation hardware suite in a tweet from Waymo CEO John Krafcik. The photo shows Krafcik along with Axios reporter Joann Muller standing in front of a Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicle with camouflaged sensors on the roof.
In 2018, Waymo inked a deal with Jaguar Land Rover to purchase 20,000 I-Paces to be self-driving taxis. At the time, they said the new vehicles would officially become part of Waymo’s commercial ride-hailing service starting in 2020. The company is already testing the new vehicle on public roads around its Mountain View headquarters.
With the electric SUVs primed to join the fleet later this year, there’s no better time to start showing off the latest member of the autonomous family. Waymo is expected to have more say about its fifth-generation vehicle in the months to come.