Los Angeles is about to get its first self-driving cars. Waymo, the self-driving division of Google parent Alphabet, announced Monday that it would begin driving its autonomous vehicles in the second most populous city in the US. But whether the company will share real-time location data with the city under its new tracking program remains unclear.
To start out, Waymo will be bringing three vehicles (all Chrysler Pacifica minivans) to map LA, specifically downtown and the Miracle Mile. The cars will be driven manually by human safety drivers. Once Waymo has a detailed 3D map of the area, the company may begin to operate its vehicles in autonomous mode, though Waymo has no plans to launch a passenger service in the city.
Waymo made the announcement in a tweet, in which it said it would explore “how Waymo’s tech might fit into LA’s dynamic transportation environment and complement the City’s innovative approach to transportation.”
Critics of the department’s MDS program have raised concerns that the location data could be used by law enforcement to track specific individuals. But supporters argue it can be expanded to incorporate more than just e-scooters. Autonomous vehicles, for instance, could eventually fall within the purview of MDS, but that will be up to LADOT and city officials to determine.
“We wanted to build something that was future proof,” Seleta Reynolds, general manager at LADOT, said in a recent interview withThe Verge. “We’renot necessarily clear on what that next opportunity is going to be in. But we want to be ready for it because we know it’s coming.”
Under California law, companies need to obtain a permit from the state Department of Motor Vehicles in order to test self-driving vehicles on public roads. After that, all they need to do to start testing in a city is inform the appropriate local authorities. Cities then would have to negotiate specific agreements, such as data sharing, on a case-by-case basis.
A spokesperson for Waymo wouldn’t respond to questions about whether the company has agreed to share data with LADOT.