Waymo brings its fleet of new self-driving SUVs to Austin

The fifth-generation autonomous vehicles are getting a big test.


Waymo is bringing a fleet of driverless cars to Austin, Texas as a test of its new fifth-generation automated driving system. The vehicles will be tested all over the city, including downtown, the Capitol, Market District and other locations. The vehicles that Waymo is testing in Austin are new all-electric Jaguar SUVs, a switch from the hybrid Chryslers it previously used.

Waymo, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company Alphabet, chose Austin as its next city for testing as an homage, of sorts, as it hosted the first prototype driverless car in 2015. Back then, the tests were conducted on Waymo’s retired Firefly prototype vehicle, which ran the first generation of Waymo’s Driver system. Nowadays, they use a fifth-generation system that has been refined and adjusted throughout the past seven years.

Another likely reason they chose Austin? A Texas state law passed in 2017 dictates that cities cannot regulate self-driving cars. To that end, the city already hosts a couple of competitors. Ford started testing its Argo driverless system in Austin last year and GM-backed startup Cruise has also set up shop. The city also plays host to plenty of autonomous delivery bots.

Waymo will also take advantage of its presence in the city to make connections with and provide services for local community organizations, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

This is a technology test and not a full-fledged rollout of a self-driving taxi fleet like the company already operates in Phoenix and San Francisco. Still, if the test goes well, Waymo could eventually bring legitimate driverless ride-hail services to Austin.

Update, 1:35PM ET: This story has been updated to reflect that Waymo will not be picking up passengers in its cars in Austin. Instead, they're doing testing to improve and evaluate their self-driving technology in more locations.