Waymo’s San Francisco Self-Driving Tests Highlights Engineers’ Work

Autonomous-driving company Waymo is now testing its self-driving vehicles on the streets of San Francisco. It’s a huge moment for self-driving technology—an urban environment is a complicated and unpredictable space, and any accidents will surely draw media attention.

Although Waymo insists this isn’t the first time the company’s vehicles have cruised an urban space, San Francisco is a very different beast than Phoenix’s East Valley, which previously served as the company’s test-bed. Should the current round of testing prove successful, Waymo plans to expand the service into downtown Phoenix. 

“Building a safe, robust, and generalizable autonomous driver—the Waymo Driver—whose capabilities and performance transfer well between geographies and product lines is our main focus,” Dmitri Dolgov, Waymo co-CEO, wrote in a statement on the company’s blog. “Just as our previous experience allowed us to deploy our 5th-gen Driver in San Francisco quickly and with confidence, the combination of our experience in San Francisco and Phoenix’s East Valley, grounded in millions of miles of real-world driving and boosted by billions of miles driven in simulation, is already guiding our progress in Downtown Phoenix and sets us up for future expansion of our fully autonomous ride-hailing service.”

This expansion into more urban areas is also a testament to the abilities of Waymo’s engineers. How much does a company pay its technologists to develop systems capable of driving a car with little or no human input? Levels.fyi, which crowdsources salary data, can give us an idea (as we’ve said before, crowdsourcing isn’t the most scientific means of determining compensation; however, levels.fyi’s ranges tend to align with those from other sources such as Glassdoor, so we’re inclined to trust them): 

If you’re interested in building autonomous-driving systems, you’ll need to master some highly specialized skills such as computer vision and machine learning. However, as Waymo’s compensation demonstrates, the results could be well worth it. If you’re curious, Waymo offers a dataset of autonomous driving data that you can explore (and potentially use in a machine-learning context).