Waymo to start testing its self-driving cars in MI

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

Waymo, owned by Google's parent company Alphabet, announced Thursday that its driverless cars will start hitting the public roads in the Greater Detroit area in the next few weeks. And the MI legislature passed a bill a year ago to encourage more testing of self-driving vehicles in the state. It began cold-weather testing in 2012 and most recently around Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada.

The company already tested its vehicles in the snow in Tahoe - pictured above - but that's nothing compared to a winter in MI.

Waymo already has a presence in MI with the 53,000 sq ft development center it opened in Novi in May 2016, where it has been integrating its self-driving technology with Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans. When Ford tested its early version of a self-driving auto two winters ago, its LIDAR sensor picked up falling snowflakes, prompting the company to develop software to help the laser sensor distinguish between snow and obstacles. Backup drivers will be at the wheel for safety reasons. "And it will also build on the advanced driving skills we've developed over the last eight years by teaching our cars how to handle things like skidding on icy, unplowed roads", Krafcik wrote in a post on Medium .

There are plenty of cold regions in the USA, but MI has passed rules facilitating the implementation of test programs for autonomous driving, which is why several companies are testing their vehicles in the state.

Earlier this year, Waymo and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Waymo was ordering 500 additional Pacifica Hybrids, on top of 100 it had already received, for a real-world testing program in Arizona with Phoenix-area residents.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik writes, "For human drivers, the mix of winter conditions can affect how well you can see, and the way your vehicle handles the road".

Gov. Rick Snyder cheered the announcement. "Michiganders certainly understand the challenges of driving in the winter and I look forward to seeing how Waymo's engineers can address that in these next-generation vehicles".

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