Waymo is ready to get back to the business of being on the streets of California.
The Alphabet-owned company shut down a public testing program for its self-driving minivans in early March, as the global pandemic started to reshape society in the United States. Now that fleet will reportedly return to the streets of San Francisco on June 8.
That revelation comes from a company email obtained by The Verge, which reported the news on Saturday. The self-driving fleet will apparently be running deliveries for a pair of non-profits: Wendy McNaughton’s #DrawTogether, which sets local kids up with art kits; and Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
Deliveries are nothing new for Waymo’s autonomous vehicle fleet. The company partnered with UPS back in January, putting the self-driving cabs to work on bringing UPS packages to their final destinations. In an unexpected twist, other companies discovered months later that putting vehicles to work on deliveries allowed them to get around pandemic-imposed bans on non-essential workers.
That’s not the route Waymo went with, but even after the company live paused testing it kept working behind the scenes. The company put virtual versions of its vehicles to work in testing simulations that had them running 20 millions miles each day.
Live tests have already returned to the streets of Phoenix, Ariz., and it appears that California is next. It’s not clear if or when the minivan fleet will return to the job of taxiing people around instead of packages. But the reported June 8 return to service is framed as package deliveries in partnership with a pair of non-profits.
There’s certainly something to the idea of trusting a non-human driver that can’t possibly be infected with a contagious illness. How to keep the cars sanitized when multiple riders are cycling in and out each day is an open question, though. What’s more, since this is a testing program for an unproven product, autonomous Waymo vehicles still employ a backup driver.
Mashable reached out to Waymo directly for confirmation and any further details the company is able to offer.