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Waymo to bring self-driving minivans back to Bay Area for delivering packages

Waymo’s self-driving minivans will return to San Francisco Bay Area streets, three months after the company stopped public testing of its autonomous vehicles due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Waymo plans to relaunch its fleet of self-driving minivans into Bay Area streets on June 8, according to an email acquired by The Verge. The vehicles, however, will not be transporting passengers. They will focus on delivering packages for non-profit organizations #DrawTogether, which gives art kits to children, and Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Waymo’s self-driving Jaguar I-PACEs will also resume driving in the Bay Area and assist with the deliveries, a company representative told Digital Trends.

Transdev, which employs Waymo’s backup drivers, said in the email that it will call back some of its workers depending on “job skills, business need, and seniority.” The deliveries to the non-profit organizations will need only one backup driver in each vehicle, and returning workers will undergo training sessions for new safety procedures that include social distancing and disinfection.

“Soon San Franciscans will also begin to see some Waymo vehicles back on the road, and we’re proud to provide charitable delivery support to community partners,” a spokesperson for the Alphabet-owned company confirmed with The Verge in a statement.

The pending return to the Bay Area follows Waymo’s restart of its testing program in Phoenix, as lockdown restrictions were eased earlier this month. Similarly, the company implemented new safety measures for returning workers, who were all required to undergo training. The autonomous vehicles will also soon also make their way back in Detroit and Los Angeles.

Waymo’s self-driving simulations

While Waymo’s vehicles were parked, the company continued developing its autonomous vehicle technology through simulations, which already played a major role in its operations before the coronavirus outbreak.

A single day of simulations is equivalent to 100 years of real-world driving, so most of the development work on any new software starts with simulations before rolling out to self-driving vehicles, according to Waymo. Real-world driving is still important, but it is comparably limited.

In simulations, Waymo may replay certain moments from 20 million miles of real-world driving by its test vehicles. Passengers may also be simulated, with machine learning models attempting to predict how driving behavior will affect the experience of passengers.

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