Traffic-clogged Los Angeles hasn’t been a factor in the race to perfect self-driving car tech, with R & D and testing concentrated in Silicon Valley, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and even Las Vegas. But that’s finally changing as autonomous minivans from Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo arrive to start building elaborate 3D maps of the sprawling city, a preliminary step ahead of offering on-demand robotaxi rides to Angelinos one day.
From an article in Forbes by Alan Ohnsman.
Three Waymo vans, loaded with the same laser lidar sensors, radar, digital cameras and computers used for its fleets in Mountain View, California, and Chandler, Arizona, where the company runs a paid ride service, on Monday start rolling around downtown Los Angeles and the city’s heavily trafficked Miracle Mile section of Wilshire Boulevard, a neighborhood wedged between Koreatown and Beverly Hills. They’re being driven by Waymo technicians, and there’s no plan to pick up passengers. Instead, the company is eager to study the city’s famed congestion.
“Congestion is a totally different thing and we’re really excited to see how that congestion kind of manifests itself,” David Margines, Waymo’s product manager for mapping, tells Forbes. “Is it similar to San Francisco congestion and the behavior of San Francisco? Or given the way L.A. is kind of built around the vehicle, whether the layout of it has actually allowed drivers to make fewer lane changes, or double-park fewer times or create the types of situations that both human and autonomous vehicles have challenges around.”
The expansion to Los Angeles comes as Waymo prepares its robotic fleet to handle increasingly diverse road conditions, from hectic, slow-moving San Francisco, leafy Silicon Valley, higher-speed Phoenix suburbs, snowy Michigan, rainy suburban Seattle and Miami during hurricane season. For now, metro Phoenix is the only place the Mountain View, California, company generates ride revenue from vehicles operating in autonomous mode, though most still have a human at the wheel ready to take over if circumstances require (in multiple rides by Forbes, including one with no human safety driver, the vans successfully completed trips in Chandler, Arizona, with no human assistance).
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