Waymo’s self-driving vans get a special emergency vehicle training day

Waymo's working to make its self-driving system even more road ready.
Image: waymo

Self-driving cars could be on public roads soon so shouldn’t they be ready to handle every possible variable of the driving experience?

That’s what Waymo is trying to teach its autonomous driving system with its new emergency vehicle tests, training the AI to recognize the flashing lights and sirens that signal all the human drivers on the road to pull over to the curb.

Waymo shared some new details about the training, carried out as part of a collaboration with Chandler, Ariz. Fire & Police Department in a blog post.

Sensing an emergency vehicle on the road isn’t entirely new to the autonomous platform Waymo’s been training its system to do this since the company was still just the Google X self-driving car project but this was the first dedicated test with the new improved sensor suite and fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

The testing revolved around data collection, as a few of Waymo’s vans “observed” the ways in which the firetrucks, ambulances, police cars, and motorcycles commanded the closed roadway in Arizona. The Waymo vans were passed, led, and trailed by the emergency vehicles, collecting essential road information all the while to build up a new library of emergency response protocols.

Waymo says that its new sensors, which it famously began to produce itself at the start of the year, expand its range of “hearing” by double its previous capabilities through audio detection sensors. The new cameras and LiDAR rig can pick up visual signals from a wider range than previously as well, which should improve the vans’ response time.

The vans got valuable on road data alongside emergency vehicles.

Image: waymo

The new setup also allows the company’s engineers to train the AI to determine from which direction the emergency vehicle is approaching to better mimic the way human driver’s respond to the alarms.

Waymo says its car can sense an emergency vehicle with its siren on, even when other cars keep moving.

Image: waymo

Waymo’s vans are already on the road in Phoenix giving self-driven rides to the public in a pilot program, and the new emergency testing will give the fleet even more data to improve its service.

The company is prepping for even bigger expansions of its self-driving tech it’s testing trucks and making deals with the likes of Lyft and Avis to position its fleet for wider deployment in the near future so it’s refreshing to see the company still focused on one of the subtle (but important) wrinkles of the driving experience.

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Tags: artificial-intelligence autonomous-vehicles emergency self-driving-cars tech transportation waymo

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