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Southeast Michigan: Waymo’s Winter Wonderland

October 30, 2017 0 Comments

Alphabet subsidiary Waymo on Thursday said it will begin teaching its self-driving vehicles to drive in the snow as they take to the roads of southeast Michigan.

Automotive-News-Waymo-to-Test-Self-Driving-Cars-in-Snow-Driving-SalesWaymo, formerly known as the Google Self-Driving Car Project, is expanding its test fleet to the metropolitan Detroit area in order to “gain experience with driving in snowy and icy conditions.” The company said it will begin the winter-weather testing this week.


Waymo CEO John Krafcik lived in Michigan for 14 years while working as an engineer for Ford Motor Company. He in a post on Waymo’s blog, he discussed the varying conditions that snow can create on the road, as well as the challenges it presents to both human drivers and autonomous AI.

“For human drivers, the mix of winter conditions can affect how well you can see, and the way your vehicle handles the road,” Krafcik wrote. “The same is true for self-driving cars. At Waymo, our ultimate goal is for our fully self-driving cars to operate safely and smoothly in all kinds of environments.”

Krafcik said the winter testing will help Waymo “understand how its sensors perform in cold weather” and in the snow and ice. It will also help the systems get more experience in varied weather conditions, such as slippery roads and snow-covered lane markings.

The Waymo test vehicles will have a human driver behind the wheel, just in case.

Waymo is expanding its fleet of specially-modified versions of the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, created in collaboration between Waymo and Fiat, that began last year. In December 2016, Fiat delivered 100 minivans to Waymo; in April this year, Waymo ordered another 500.

Waymo’s new development center, in Novi, Michigan, opened in May of this year, putting part of the Waymo team near FCA and other potential automotive partners. The Novi facility will be home-base for the winter-testing efforts, Krafcik said.

Waymo has mostly been testing its autonomous vehicles in California, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and Washington, all places that don’t typically experience severe winter weather. Waymo said it has accumulated “some limited winter-weather” in Nevada and California near Lake Tahoe over the last few years, but Michigan will pose new challenges for self-driving vehicles.

In certain aspects, Waymo is considered to be at the forefront of the self-driving pack; however, winter-testing isn’t one of them, as it likely is joining several other companies – General Motors and Delphi Automotive, among others – in southeast Michigan this winter. In January 2016, Ford claimed to be the first to test self-driving technology in the snow; however, Waymo disputed this claim.

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