Waymo turns its driverless cars into roving weather stations • The Register

Self-driving taxi entrepreneur Waymo may have a way around his vehicles’ troubles in foggy San Francisco: by turning each one into a roving weather station that can adapt to the conditions.

From a hardware perspective, it seems like an easy trick, Waymo said in a blog post. Its current hardware – cameras, radar, lidar – is simply attributed to itself.

Waymo Driver’s hardware and AI engine “uses the raindrops on the windows — or lack thereof — to classify various weather conditions.” According to Waymo, the approach is similar to how laser-based instruments were previously used to detect fog, clouds, dust storms and to measure other weather phenomena.

Waymo said that by adapting the laser concept and pairing that data with “high quality ground truth data” from visibility sensors, it developed “a quantitative metric for meteorological visibility.”

Armed with this metric, Waymo Driver can analyze the weather around their vehicle in real-time. “Put simply, each Waymo vehicle acts as an autonomous ‘mobile weather station,’ providing an unparalleled understanding of the weather in the areas we travel,” said Waymo.

Ground-level weather in San Fran: “Unpredictable” is generous

When Waymo’s driverless taxis went live in San Francisco last year, it came with a tight constraint: Weather worse than light rain or light fog shut down operations. In San Francisco, this can mean that a loaned Waymo cab might not get you home.

“Even over short distances — like between San Francisco International Airport and the Sunset District — local conditions can vary significantly,” Waymo said, adding that modern weather instruments lack the specificity and precision needed to operate in places like the Golden City are required.

That’s why Waymo Driver’s weather data isn’t limited to one vehicle – it’s sent back to Waymo headquarters to be used as a “first of its kind” citywide fog map.

Waymo said the map allows his fleet to track the progression of the fog as it rolls in from the Pacific and burns off at sunrise, and can even “detect drizzle and light rain that result in wet roads in situations unseen by the National.” are The Weather Service’s local Doppler weather radar.”

Can we have the all weather permit now please?

In addition to using Waymo sensors to map ground-level conditions, the company plans to use data collected from its vehicles to train Waymo drivers in simulated environments so they can improve AI performance “regardless of the season.”

Waymo said the weather-sensing technology is now being used in San Francisco and Phoenix, “and we will create similar weather maps for additional cities as we scale.”

While the expansion is obviously on the books since the company has announced plans to enter Los Angeles, it’s likely the San Franciscos who will be excited about the news. Residents wishing to ride in a Waymo driverless taxi must be part of Waymo’s Trusted Tester program, which means most locals will not be able to hail a Waymo driverless taxi.

If Waymo is able to improve its ability to operate in San Francisco’s unpredictable and often foggy weather, it could finally prove that operating robotaxis in places other than deserts is practical. ®

https://www.theregister.com/2022/11/15/waymo_weather/ Waymo turns its driverless cars into roving weather stations • The Register

Rick Schindler

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