Waymo takes on the hills of San Francisco

After Phoenix, Waymo’s robotaxis (Google) will carry out tests in San Francisco, where the roads go up and down and the weather conditions are less favorable.

Image d’illustration.

Image d’illustration.

Waymo on Wednesday announced the arrival in San Francisco of its robotaxis service, self-driving, driverless cars, for testing with passengers outside of Phoenix, Arizona, where its industry-leading vehicles have already been operating since 2017. Robotaxis Google will initially only be used by Waymo employees, who volunteer to collect data that will be used to improve the technology.

In Phoenix, unmanned commercial service – neither in vehicles nor remotely – is available to a limited number of customers. The American city, located on a plain, well grid, not very pedestrianized and very sunny, lends itself well to the exercise.

In San Francisco, Waymo will have to face “the hills that follow one another and the large sandy roads along the ocean, the narrow streets and highways, bike paths and tram tracks,” notes the subsidiary in its communicated. Not to mention the cloudier and less predictable weather, especially with the thick fog in summer. “Building an autonomous driving service that can face this complexity safely and efficiently represents a huge engineering challenge,” adds the company.

Waymo claims to have already started to adapt its sensors and software to a denser and more volatile urban environment, to even detect pedestrians who cross the road outside the nails, emerging from behind a vehicle, for example.

A step ahead

The city and its region are not entirely new to the system. “Waymo’s story began in the San Francisco Bay Area,” recalls the subsidiary. The brand’s cars have completed their first “1,000 autonomous miles” in California, including the tech capital and Silicon Valley, where Google is headquartered.

Waymo has gained a head start over other companies in the race for autonomous technology, like Tesla and Uber. An Uber self-driving car was involved in a fatal crash in March 2018, forcing most groups engaged in the technology to reassess their safety systems.

This summer Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla, for his part declared “extremely confident that we would very quickly have the basic functionalities of level 5 autonomous driving, which is basically full autonomy (…) this year”. But he had already promised the autonomous car for 2018, then assured that he would circulate robotaxis in early 2020.

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