Waymo’s fleet of self-driving minivans recently had on opportunity to expand its experience with emergency vehicles on the streets of Chandler, Arizona, during the project’s first “emergency vehicle testing day.”
According to Waymo— formerly known as Google’s self-driving car project— the minivans’ audio, camera, camera, and LiDAR systems were all put to the test as the Chandler Police and Fire Department drove towards and around the cars. Waymo’s vehicles already know how to pass a car and avoid various road obstacles, but recognizing when to yield at an intersection or pull over on the side of the highway to allow a police car or ambulance to pass requires a high-level of data to determine the car’s next move. The day of testing was geared towards collecting a “library of sights and sounds” for its fleet.
The vans were given many different scenarios during both the daytime and night. Different types of emergency vehicles, including police motorcycles, with various sirens and speeds followed, led, and intercepted the vehicles at all angles to allow sensors to gather a variety of information.
The enterprise was mainly focusing on its new audio sensors, which Waymo develops and builds in-house. Waymo says that these new sensors can hear sounds twice as far than the previous design. This is especially important for autonomous cars, allowing them the necessary time to examine their environment and make an intelligent decision.
Waymo currently tests its cars in four US cities, including Phoenix. Chandler is a suburb of the city.
Understanding how emergency vehicles move throughout the streets and how to respond to them is an important step for autonomous vehicles. It is yet another crucial development in the push to give self-driving cars the independence from human decision-making that will allow complete autonomy and let us take our hands off the wheel for good.