Waymo turns its robotaxis into mobile weather stations

Bad weather can impact an autonomous driving system. To improve its technology, Waymo, a subsidiary of the Alphabet group, decided to make the Waymo Driver a mobile weather station. In a blog post on November 14, the company announced that it has designed a new “quantitative weather visibility metric” that Waymo Driver can use to generate estimates of current weather and environmental conditions in Phoenix and San Francisco, cities where its robot taxis operate.

Autonomous driving systems can find themselves in difficulty in the event of bad weather: reflections from wet roads can disturb the cameras, condensation, fog, mist and rain can clog the surfaces of the sensors and alter their data. To overcome this last problem, Waymo engineers have also built a cleaning system.

The 5th generation Waymo Driver, comprised of cameras, radar and lidar, uses raindrops on car windows, or lack thereof, to classify various weather conditions. Waymo has added weather visibility sensors, horn-shaped devices placed on the roof of the car that collect ground reality data on fog, droplet density…

Realistic weather simulations, ranging from sensor level to system level, allow it to improve the performance of Waymo Driver in harsh weather conditions. By combining the two data sources, the company was able to generate a quantitative metric on weather visibility, which allows it to create a real-time fog map for San Francisco and Phoenix where its robotaxis circulate.

Waymo and San Francisco

Weather conditions change very quickly in San Francisco, they even differ from one neighborhood to another. Data from weather stations, satellites and radars often lack precision and specificity to reflect the real driving conditions of our vehicles.

It is all the more important for Waymo to advance Waymo Driver driving in this city since the company received, on November 18, the authorization of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to participate in its Driverless Pilot program. , accommodating passengers in an autonomous test vehicle that operates without a driver in the vehicle. She also joined the company Cruise, which like her, however, is not authorized to circulate its vehicles in the event of fog or heavy rain.

The objective for Waymo is of course to advance Waymo Driver with a detailed understanding of the weather and its impacts on this technology for more safety, but also to change the legislation before operating it in other cities, for which she intends to create similar weather maps.

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