Waymo will test its self-driving cars in Los Angeles

Los Angeles is about to acquire its first self-driving cars. Waymo, the self-driving division of Google parent Alphabet, announced Monday that it would begin testing its autonomous vehicles in the second most populous city in the United States. But whether the company will share real-time location data with the city under the new tracking program is unclear.

To start, Waymo will bring three vehicles (all Chrysler Pacifica minivans) to map LA, specifically downtown and the Miracle Mile. The cars will be driven manually by safety drivers. Once Waymo has a detailed 3D map of the area, the company will begin operating its vehicles in autonomous mode, even though Waymo has no plans to launch a passenger service in the city.

Waymo made its announcement in a tweet stating that it would explore "how Waymo's technology can fit into LA's dynamic transport environment and complement the city's innovative approach to transportation."

It's an interesting choice of words, given the controversy surrounding the LA Department of Transportation's use of a digital tool called Mobility Data Specification (MDS) to track real-time electric scooters and other shared mobility devices operating in the streets. E-scooter companies must share data with the city as a prerequisite for obtaining permission to operate scooters in LA. It's like an air traffic control system for ground vehicles.

Critics of the department's MDS program have raised concerns that the location data may be used by law enforcement to track specific individuals. But supporters claim it can be expanded to incorporate more than just e-scooters. Autonomous vehicles, for example, may fall within the scope of MDS.

"We wanted to build something that was future-proof," said Seleta Reynolds, general manager at LADOT, in a recent interview with The Verge. " We are not necessarily aware of what the next opportunity is going to be. But we will be ready for it because we know it is coming."

A Waymo spokesman would not answer questions if the company has agreed to share data with LADOT.

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