Waymo Was Able to Test Autonomous Vehicles at Its Fake City During COVID-19

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【Summary】It’s one of those times Waymo was probably incredibly happy about its extensive 113-acre self-driving car facility.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Oct 20, 2020 7:45 PM PT
Waymo Was Able to Test Autonomous Vehicles at Its Fake City During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic caused, and continues, to wreak mayhem across the United States. Automakers and tech companies were hit especially hard by the pandemic, requiring them to shut factories, requiring engineers to work remotely, and put major plans on hold. Autonomous tech companies were also hit hard, pulling driverless vehicles off the road, essentially bringing autonomous programs to an end.

How Waymo Tests Its Cars

When California, which is one of the primary states for autonomous testing, put a shelter-in-place order into effect, companies like Waymo were forced to take their autonomous vehicles elsewhere for testing. While the majority of autonomous tech companies were forced to use high-tech virtual systems to complete their testing, Waymo took advantage of its sprawling testing facility. 

As the tech company points out in a press release, it's one of the few that has its own closed-course facility. It's called Castle and it's an autonomous car testing facility built on a former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater, California. The old base has been a part of Waymo's autonomous car testing program since 2013 and is used to put self-driving vehicles through rigorous tests. Waymo's engineers find insanely tough scenarios from the real world and make autonomous vehicles run through them over and over again.

This is what's known as "structured testing" and it gives companies like Waymo an advantage over purely focusing on getting data in the real world and in virtual scenarios. For the most part, structured testing is something that's used by a lot of tech companies. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, it became the primary method of testing for driverless cars.

Waymo's Facility Gives It An Edge

During the pandemic, Waymo stopped public testing in March and suspended operations at Castle for some time. The company didn't resume testing in Arizona until May. For those few months, testing at its closed facility was surely vital and gave the company an edge over its competitors.

The large facility is used by Waymo to replicate things autonomous vehicles may run into in the real world. Things like railroad crossings, roundabouts, people walking into the street, nearly everything imaginable, and some odd things that can't, can be replicated at the facility. With so many possibilities, it shouldn't be surprising to hear that Waymo reportedly has over 40,000 scenarios for autonomous vehicles to be put through.

As one would imagine, testing an autonomous vehicle is a lengthy task and requires a lot of space, time, and individuals. Not being able to test autonomous vehicles publicly during the coronavirus was a massive problem for tech companies, but was one that Waymo found a way around. It's one of the reasons why Waymo continues to lead the pack when it comes to autonomous vehicles

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