Waymo autonomous trucks, minivans roll into Texas, New Mexico

Waymo autonomous trucks, minivans roll into Texas, New Mexico

Yesterday, Waymo LLC announced on social media that it is expanding testing of its autonomous trucks and minivans to Texas and parts of New Mexico. The self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet has already been mapping cities across the U.S., including Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Phoenix, and San Francisco.

Waymo had closed its office in Austin, Texas, last November. However, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company is looking to expand testing and mapping for its autonomous trucks and other vehicles.

“This week, we’ll start driving our Chrysler Pacificas and long-haul trucks in Texas and New Mexico,” the company posted on Twitter. “These are interesting and promising commercial routes, and we’ll be using our vehicles to explore how the Waymo Driver might be able to create new transportation solutions.”

“We’ve tested our self-driving vehicles in a wide variety of cities and environments,” Alexis Georgeson, a Waymo spokeswoman, told The Robot Report. “We’ll be driving along many of the interstates, like I-10, I-20, and I-45.”

Autonomous truck and minivan testing is expanding nationwide. Source: Waymo

Waymo autonomous trucks benefit from car experience

Since being founded as part of Google in 2009, Waymo’s Driver has driven more than 20 million miles on public roads in more than 25 U.S. cities, plus another 10 billion miles in simulation. The company said it has tested its technology in four generations of self-driving vehicles, as well as Class 8 trucks.

While Waymo’s autonomous trucks use the same advanced self-driving software and suite of custom-built sensors as its cars and minivans, they are configured differently, said Georgeson. They operate on the same roads as Waymo’s other vehicles, she noted.

Potential commercial applications for Waymo’s technology include logistics, ride-hailing services, deliveries, and public transportation. The company also recently offered its lidar sensors as a standalone product to non-competitors.

Vans do the mapping

The company’s Pacifica minivans, which it uses in its Waymo One ride-hailing service, are conducting the mapping for its autonomous trucks. Once the vehicles have gathered data with multiple sensors, Waymo cleans it, annotates features such as crosswalks and intersections, and creates a map.

The map is put through quality control testing and then tested on vehicles. “This process is the same, no matter where we go, and it’s also the same process we follow when updating our maps,” said Georgeson.

“These are not ‘normal’ maps in the way that most people think of them,” she added. “The things that our cars care about are quite different than someone trying to find their way to a restaurant via Google Maps or Waze. For example, it’s far more important for us to know the speed limit of the road than the name of it. However, a human needs the name in order to navigate to their destination correctly.”

Waymo said its maps enable its autonomous trucks and cars to focus on dynamic elements of the environment, such as other drivers or pedestrians. The company recently acquired Latent Logic for the simulation of human behavior on roads.

The amount of data that Waymo has gathered and sent back out to its vehicles helped it have the lowest “disengagement rate,” or the rate that safety drivers had to take over, of companies rated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles two years ago.

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