Waymo will begin testing in Florida to “get a better handle on how rain affects” the sensors its uses in its self-driving cars. Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Alphabet, Inc., said Tuesday it’s bringing its Chrysler Pacifica minivans and Jaguar I-Pace to a closed course in Naples for several weeks before testing on public roads in Miami.
Waymo said its vehicles will also been seen on highways between Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers and Miami. At this point, unfortunately, it seems these tests are strictly to better understand how rain affects Waymo’s sensor suite. Waymo said the vehicles will “be manually operated by our trained test drivers which will give us the opportunity to collect data of real-world driving situations in heavy rain.” There’s no mention of autonomous testing in Waymo’s announcement, but things could change, of course.
“During the summer months of Hurricane Season, Miami is one of the wettest cities in the U.S., averaging an annual 61.9 inches of rain and experiencing some of the most intense weather conditions in the country,” Waymo said.
“Heavy rain can create a lot of noise for our sensors. Wet roads also may result in other road users behaving differently. Testing allows us to understand the unique driving conditions, and get a better handle on how rain affects our own vehicle movements, too.”
Waymo also pointed out that “over the last few years our testing has taken us to snowy Novi, Michigan, rainy Kirkland, Washington, foggy San Francisco, and of course those dusty haboobs in Phoenix, Arizona.”
Waymo is hands down the leading company working on autonomous vehicles. The company has deployed nearly 600 vehicles in those test areas. And eight-plus months ago it launched Waymo One, a commercial driverless taxi fleet, in Arizona.
Waymo spokesperson Alexis Georgeson told the Orlando Sentinel, “rain can affect our image quality and lidar detection, so it’s important we test our sensors to better understand its impact to develop capabilities that can handle it. She continued, “at this time, we’re not yet launching a rider program in Florida.”
Florida lawmakers passed a law earlier in 2019 that allows self-driving cars to operate in the Sunshine State without a human on board. Signed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the bill is designed to encourage autonomous vehicle companies to test in Florida.
Waymo OK’d to carry passengers in California
Waymo was recently granted a permit to carry passengers in its self-driving cars operating in California. It has been testing self-driving cars in California for years, but it’s now part of the state’s Autonomous Vehicle Passenger Service pilot program that includes Autox Technologies, Pony.ai and Zoox.
The permit, granted by the California Public Utilities Commission, requires a Waymo safety operator to be behind the wheel at all times and doesn’t allow Waymo to charge riders. The permit is good for three years.