Waymo, the self-driving car company under the alphabet, has been testing for several years in a suburb of Phoenix. And while the sunny metropolis seems to be the ideal and easiest place to test autonomous vehicle technologies, the desert is becoming a dangerous place for any driver – human or computer.
The two major security concerns in this desert region are sudden downpours causing flash floods and haboobs, huge dust walls between 1,500 and 3,000 feet high that can cover up to 100 square miles. A record-breaking Haboob in July 2011 covered the entire Phoenix Valley, an area of more than 517 square miles.
Waymo posted a blog post on Friday containing two videos showing how his self-driving vehicle sensors detect and detect objects while navigating through a Haboob in Phoenix and fog in San Francisco. The vehicle in Phoenix was driven manually, while in the fog video was in autonomous mode.
According to Waymo, the videos show how and if the vehicles recognize objects in these extremely poor visual moments. And they do it. The Haboob video shows how his sensors are used to identify a pedestrian crossing a street with little or no visibility to identify and identify objects. Mist, rain or dust can affect the visibility of all or some of these sensors.
Waymo does not lock the sensors affected by a particular weather event. Instead, data continues to be collected from all sensors, including those that do not work well in fog or dust, and this collective information is used to better identify objects.
The potential for autonomous vehicles is to improve visibility, one of the greatest performance limitations of humans, wrote Debbie Hersman, Waymo's Chief Safety Officer, in the blog post. If Waymo or other AV companies are successful, they can help reduce one of the main causes of crashes. The Department of Transportation estimates that the weather contributes to 21% of annual accidents in the US.
Nevertheless, there are times when even an autonomous vehicle does not belong on the road. Any organization planning to deploy AVs will need a system that not only recognizes when conditions deteriorate, but also takes the safest measures.
Waymo vehicles are designed to automatically detect sudden extreme weather changes, such as snowstorms, according to Hersman, compromising the ability of a human or AV to drive safely.
The question is what happens next. People should get off the road during a Haboob and turn off the vehicle, a similar action when encountering heavy fog. Waymo's self-driving vehicles will do the same if weather conditions worsen to such an extent that the company believes they are affecting the safe operation of its cars, Hersman wrote and where it tests. The company announced on August 20 that it has begun to test how its Florida sensors deal with heavy rain. The move to Florida will focus on data acquisition and sensor testing. The vehicles will initially be driven manually.
Waymo also tests (or has tested) its technology in and around Mountain View, California, Novi, Michigan, Kirkland, Washington, and San Francisco. Most of the company's activities were conducted in suburban Phoenix and around Mountain View.