Autonomous ride-hailing service Waymo will soon venture out of its comfort zone and begin sending its Lidar-equipped Chrysler Pacifica minivans to New York City. While New Yorkers might start to see one of the five hybrid minivans circling the streets of Manhattan in the near future, they won’t be able to flag one down like they can a Yellow Cab, as Waymo isn’t there to pick up passengers—at least not yet.
From an article in The Drive by Rob Stumpf.
Instead, the Google-born spinoff is sending a small fleet to roam the densely-populated city in order to map its complex traffic patterns and better improve its service, it claims.
For Waymo, mapping has always been a critical part of training its self-driving model. Even from the beginning (before Google was in the picture), Waymo’s founders Sebastian Thrun and Anthony Levandowski used car-mounted cameras for initial research on image-based street mapping. And Waymo’s newest mission in New York is no different, though maybe a bit more mature.
New York City is the latest urban sprawl visited by Waymo’s Driver project and will be one of the dozens intricately mapped by the company’s sophisticated cars. However, NYC is fairly unique. Its streets are dense and the city has a diverse range of topographies. But most importantly, it has varying climates with harsh weather in which Waymo’s vehicles can learn how to adapt.
In fact, I asked Waymo about this very topic just last week—how can it feel comfortable expanding its driverless ride-hailing business into areas with inclement weather like heavy rain and snow? As it turns out, the company had a surprise up its sleeve: New York City.
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