The electric car that emerged from the fog on Monday morning might have seemed ordinary, if not for the blocky, rectangular sensors protruding from each corner.

It was a Waymo Jaguar, one of a fleet that has become ever more common on San Francisco’s streets over the past year. Since August, 2021, self-driving car company Waymo, and parent company Alphabet, have been collaborating with car manufacturer Jaguar to allow some shortlisted candidates in the city to try out their autonomous ride-hailing services. Early this week, I cunningly leveraged my position as a reporter to snag a spot on that shortlist.

I went into my first autonomous trip half expecting some serious drama, which fortunately did not materialize. My ride with the service was actually quite pleasant, although not without a few rough edges …

New technology always has its charm, especially in a city like San Francisco, and the car’s generally smooth ride was impressive. However, the need for a human driver to step in at tricky junctures makes it hard to escape the feeling that a future of autonomous cars has not yet fully arrived.

To experience Waymo rides for yourself, you can “Sign up” to the Waymo One project and “Raise your hand,” said Karp. But that’s just the first step, and whether or not one gets selected depends on the type of tester Waymo is looking for. They want to have a range of users, from older adults to families with younger kids.

The current phase is expected to last some time, at least until Waymo gets its own fully autonomous permit approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, although it remains uncertain how long that will take.

“We submitted it a while ago. I’m sure the teams who worked with them have a better idea. It’s always hard to know,” said Karp.

I watched as the quiet car, and its equally silent driver, pulled away. If no more orders came, they would spend the rest of the day “practicing” in another area of the city, but it is was impossible to know where it would end up for sure.

They disappeared into fog that had still not yet cleared.

Written by Yujie Zhou. Graphics by Will Jarrett.

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REPORTER. Yujie Zhou is our newest reporter and came on as an intern after graduating from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. She is a full-time staff reporter as part of the Report for America program that helps put young journalists in newsrooms. Before falling in love with the Mission, Yujie covered New York City, studied politics through the “street clashes” in Hong Kong, and earned a wine-tasting certificate in two days. She’s proud to be a bilingual journalist. Follow her on Twitter @Yujie_ZZ.

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DATA REPORTER. Will was born in the UK and studied English at Oxford University. After a few years in publishing, he absconded to the USA where he studied data journalism in New York. Will has strong views on healthcare, the environment, and the Oxford comma.

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  1. Very disappointed that you seem to champion this technology. Read Paris Marx’s new book: Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation for a different take. (SFPL has it) More congestion likely (driver or not–still another metal box on the road), another tech that is promoted as helpful for everyone, where most of this stuff benefits upper middle to upper classes. New existing technologies can be improved and more pedestrian and bike-friendly safety advances are needed. No real answers to who is responsible for collisions/deaths, hacking of software and breakdowns–a la recent Gough St, Sacramento St., Clement St. fiascos. Another fraud and another capitulation to this experimentation by our so-called progressive citizens and politicians.

    1. Sir — 

      I don’t detect any boosterism in this story. You sure you’re not bringing it in on your own?


      1. Joe: I think Tad is interpreting: “…To experience Waymo rides for yourself, you can “Sign up” to the Waymo One project and “Raise your hand,” said Karp. But that’s just the first step, and whether or not one gets selected depends on the type of tester Waymo is looking for. They want to have a range of users, from older adults to families with younger kids…” as a form of promotion with its upbeat demeanor and sign-up instructions. I think an extended article that includes references to the growing literature/articles by yes, even tech insiders, that say this technology is not even close to being ready and will not be viable/useful, etc. would be beneficial. Too many people have been mesmerized by Elon and his ilk and have become like the Eloi of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine.

  2. I could have done without the needlessly complicated graphic display which adds nothing to this story. Please keep the under-30’s tech at bay.

    In the meanwhile, this is a puff piece. The car did unexpected things…shouldn’t a reporter asked, and told us why? Did she ask any hard questions about how the car fares in chaotic SF traffic? Why does it take 20 mins to get a ride when Lyft/Uber can do it in a third of the time?

    1. Sir or madam — 

      These comments are monitored and posted in real-time. I can assure you that nobody is trying to censor your voice.

      Thanks for reading. Your input will be given all the consideration it merits.


  3. Successful implementation of a truly autonomous vehicle will result in Uber and Lyft terminating almost all their drivers.

    1. Good thing if this means the end of double-parking and lurching up the block. OTOH, autonomous vehicle operation is not driving. And they cannot drive. I predict plenty of road rage and people cutting in front of these rolling roadblocks.

    2. Uber and Lyft will have merged and then gone bankrupt long before level 5 driverless autonomy is reached, assuming that it ever is. Some form of driverless vehicle might come to long-haul trucking, with long, predictable routes, but it won’t work in an urban environment unless/until humans are removed and infrastructure is redesigned to facilitate ease of movement for our robot driver overlords. The technology is so far more expensive that human drivers on a per vehicle basis that if it is ever implemented, transportation costs will go through the roof. Monopoly livery service and driverless cars are both scams, and sick jokes being played on the public.