Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project, wants to operate an Uber-style ridesharing service, but first it needs to convince members of the public to ride vehicles without human drivers. To help with that, Waymo put together this video showing how its autonomous cars work.
The video starts out by explaining the trifecta of sensors that allow self-driving cars to “see” their environment. Lidar identifies objects around the car, radar determines how far away they are, and cameras allow the car to figure out what it’s looking at. The sensors scan 360 degrees around the car at a range of up to 300 yards, according to Waymo. Onboard computers process sensor data, trying to predict what nearby vehicles and pedestrians will do and how the car should react.
Waymo also showed the view from the passenger seat of one of its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, complete with a steering wheel turning all by itself. While it’s impossible to get the full sensation from a video, Waymo promised that riding in one of its self-driving cars will be like riding in a car driven by a person. We can confirm that assertion based on previous experience with another company’s self-driving car, but would add that it’s more like riding in a car with a person whose driving skills you are unsure of.
Waymo’s self-driving car development efforts are picking up speed. As of February 28, the company’s autonomous cars have racked up 5 million miles on public roads since testing began in 2009. That milestone came just three months after Waymo reached the 4 million mile mark. In addition to real-world testing, Waymo uses software simulations. It claims that test vehicles covered 2.7 billion simulated miles last year.
After all of that testing, Waymo may finally be ready to commercialize self-driving cars. The company is bulking up its fleet of minivans, and was recently granted permission to operate a ridesharing service in Arizona. Going forward, convincing members of the public that self-driving cars are safe will be as important as the technology itself. A perfect autonomous car won’t be of much use if no one wants to ride in it.
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