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Waymo’s next-gen self-driving tech can see what’s happening 500 meters ahead

Waymo has pulled the wraps off the latest version of Driver, the hardware/software combo that enables its autonomous vehicles to safely navigate the streets.

The unveiling comes in the same week that the Alphabet-owned company announced it had secured a whopping $2.25 billion in its first-ever round of external funding.

Since starting life as a Google project in 2009 before emerging as an independent entity within Alphabet in 2016, Waymo has been diligently honing the technology that this week landed in its fifth iteration. A big chunk of it is comprised of lidar that identifies objects around the vehicles, radar that works out the distance of those objects from the vehicle, and cameras that enable the vehicle to work out what it’s looking at.

In a message posted on Wednesday, March 4, Satish Jeyachandran, Waymo’s head of hardware, detailed how its long-range cameras and 360 vision system can now see much farther than before, allowing its self-driving cars, minivans, and trucks to identify objects — including pedestrians and stop signs — at distances of more than 500 meters.

And that’s not all. Waymo’s new 360 lidar system is now advanced enough to spot “the opening of a car door a city block away, [and] also gives our trucks the ability to spot road debris hundreds of meters ahead on the highway,” according to Jeyachandran.

But it’s also important that the vehicle knows exactly what’s happening in its immediate vicinity. Its new short-range perimeter lidars help in this regard, detecting nearby objects and allowing the vehicle to safely navigate tight gaps in city traffic while also covering potential blind spots on hilly roads.

Waymo Driver 5G

Waymo’s latest Driver technology includes a new peripheral vision system, too, that helps to reduce blind spots caused by parked cars or large vehicles. The peripheral cameras enable the vehicle “to peek around a truck driving in front of us, seeing if we can safely overtake it or if we should wait.”

The system’s radar capabilities have also been improved to offer higher resolution and enhanced signal processing capabilities that mean it can now better detect and track objects, whether moving or stationary.

Jeyachandran described its refreshed technology as “a significant upgrade, enhancing the Waymo Driver’s capabilities in a way that will help us as we scale our fleet to more challenging places,” adding that its latest suite of sensors delivers “more performance than ever before, at half the cost of our previous generation.”

Waymo has already started fitting the new technology to its Jaguar I-Pace autonomous cars, with off-road testing already underway.

Over time, the technology will also be fitted to its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans that it’s using for ridesharing services in Arizona as part of a trial, and also its autonomous trucks that it is testing in several states across the U.S. with a view to launching commercial freight services.

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Trevor Mogg
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