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Waymo is Headed to Florida to See How its Self-Driving Vehicles Perform in the Rain

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【Summary】​The sunny and tropical weather that Florida is famous for also brings with it heavy rain and thunderstorms, especially in the summer. For Alphabet subsidiary Waymo, Florida in the summer is the perfect place to test how its self-driving vehicles perform in the rain.

Eric Walz    Aug 20, 2019 11:55 AM PT
Waymo is Headed to Florida to See How its Self-Driving Vehicles Perform in the Rain

The sunny and tropical weather that Florida is famous for also brings with it heavy rain and thunderstorms, especially in the summer. During the summer months of hurricane season, Miami is one of the most rain-soaked cities in the U.S., averaging an 62 inches of rain and some of the most intense weather conditions in the country.

For Waymo, Florida in the summer is the perfect place to test how its self-driving vehicles perform in heavy rain.

Waymo announced today in a blog post that it is bringing its self-driving vehicles to Miami later this month to evaluate how lidar, radar and cameras deal with Florida's heavy rains. The company will begin testing on a closed course in Naples. 

Afterwards, Waymo said its moving its fleet to public roads in Miami, where they will be manually operated by test drivers collecting data of real-world driving situations in heavy rain. Waymo said its bringing a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans and a Jaguar I-Pace to Florida. 

For Waymo, who's top priority is safety, the testing will be invaluable, as autonomous vehicles will be required to perform just as well as humans in all weather conditions, including at night, in freezing weather and during periods of snow or heavy rain. 

Waymo said that rain can create a lot of noise for its vehicle sensors, but it will also test the robustness of its deep-learning algorithms and how Waymo's vehicles behave around pedestrians.  

Waymo's self-driving vehicles utilize AI-powered deep learning neural nets to predict the intended path of pedestrians and other road users. However, in a sudden rainstorm, pedestrians or bicyclists may suddenly behave erratically, like darting across a busy street and running to find shelter, crossing an intersection before the light turns green, or walking faster that normal to try and stay dry. They also might pull out bulky umbrellas in a variety of colors, which may affect how Waymo's self-driving perception system "sees" them.

The self-driving vehicle software and AI needs to be able to respond to this type of unpredictable pedestrian behavior like a human driver would, but it also needs to be scalable for the commercial rollout of Waymo's autonomous ride-hailing service Waymo One.

The Waymo One pilot is already underway in Arizona, picking up passengers who summon a ride in one of the company's self-driving minivans using the Waymo One app.

Waymo said that Florida residents will start seeing the self-driving vehicles on highways between Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers and Miami as it learns about Florida roads. Miami's mayor is welcoming to Waymo's presence in the sunshine state.

"Waymo's decision to choose Miami as a testing platform for its cutting-edge technology speaks to our city's position as a dynamic hub for innovation," said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. "As a Smart City, we are constantly working to modernize how we move and travel. Waymo's work uniquely aligns with Miami's mission to embrace technology to solve problems and improve lives, while prioritizing safety and efficiency."

In addition to Florida, over the past several years Waymo has been testing its self-driving vehicles in Novi, Michigan, Kirkland, Washington, San Francisco, and Phoenix, Arizona in its mission to build the world's most experienced driver.

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