As much as I love technology, there’s still a lot about it that I don’t trust. Driverless cars are one of them. One horror story about an autopilot malfunction is enough to scare most people away from the tech, and that’s definitely the case for me. I’ve spent 15 years learning how to dodge a car that’s about to merge into my lane without signalling and planning to veer around mattresses in the middle of a busy, six-lane highway. Can AI do what I can do? Maybe not yet, but Waymo, owned by Google parent company Alphabet, is building its own replica urban city to test its driverless cars in a safe environment in a bid to one day convince people like me to give it a shot.
According to SlashGear, Waymo will be working with the Transportation Research Centre (TRC) to build the environment in East Liberty, Ohio, where it can test different types of autonomous vehicles: regular cars and Class 8 trucks alike. Facilities for research and development will be built as well.
1/2 Waymo has secured two new facilities to advance the #WaymoDriver. First, we’re working with @TRCPG to co-develop an exclusive, first-of-its-kind testing environment that will model a dense urban environment. Second, we’re opening an R&D facility in Menlo Park, pic.twitter.com/WiX2vs2LxF
— Waymo (@Waymo) December 1, 2020
Ohio is a good location for all the testing Waymo wants to do on snow and ice. But the company also plans to test its driverless vehicles in more unusual and dangerous scenarios that aren’t commonly seen on public roads. Avoiding deer on a mountain road or a person falling off their bike into the middle of traffic are the first two things that come to my mind, both of which I’ve encountered before. (Lucky me.) Never mind the literal herd of sheep blocking a two-lane road when I was driving through Conamara 10 years ago. A car being able to navigate itself safely through any of those situations would be impressive.
Waymo is also opening a second R&D facility in Menlo Park, CA where the focus will be more on Class 8 trucks rather than sedans and similarly-sized vehicles.
“Together, these new facilities will enable us to advance the latest generation of our fully autonomous driving technology across multiple vehicle platforms,” Waymo said in a statement on Twitter.
Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) announced it would allow autonomous taxis, both with drivers and without, to charge for their services. Waymo is one of among 60+ companies that would benefit from this, not to mention it’s one of only seven companies that currently has a valid CPUC-issued Autonomous Vehicle Pilot.