Waymo has disclosed that its latest vehicle sensor arrays are producing real-time weather maps in hopes of improving ride-hailing services in Phoenix and San Francisco. The Alphabet subsidiary’s robotaxis detect the intensity of conditions such as fog or rain by measuring the droplets on the windows.
When compared to radar, satellites, and airport weather stations, Waymo’s technology provides a considerably more precise picture of the environment. It can detect inland-moving coastal fog or drizzle that radar would often miss. In places like San Francisco and elsewhere where the weather can change drastically between areas, insights from this real-time weather-based data might be quite helpful.
Millions of data points were gathered by Waymo’s fleet of robotaxi autonomous vehicles as they traveled through the foggy streets of San Francisco to create the map. Waymo is able to develop a new meteorological metric in conjunction with advanced weather-detecting vehicles outfitted with visibility sensors, which it then feeds to its autonomous “Waymo Driver AI” to support its decision-making.
With the help of this map, Waymo’s fleet can monitor the buildup of coastal fogs coming off the Pacific Ocean as well as how quickly they dissipate in the morning. It can sense drizzle and light rainfall that cause slippery roadways in adverse conditions when the National Weather Service’s local Doppler weather radar is ineffective. With the use of these weather monitoring tools, Waymo can determine specific locations where the weather is starting to get worse or better.
The mapping technology also enables Waymo One to offer better ride-hailing services to consumers at a certain time and location and provides Waymo Via trucking customers with more precise delivery updates.
As Waymo moves closer to introducing completely autonomous vehicles as part of its for-profit robotaxis service in California, this degree of on-the-ground accuracy will become increasingly crucial. After getting certification from the California DMV, the Alphabet company is almost ready to start delivering “rider-only” trips in San Francisco.
Daniel Rothenberg, a trained meteorologist and a member of the company’s weather team told The Verge, “Waymo will create similar weather maps for additional cities as we scale.”
The surge in the number of autonomous vehicles in recent years has brought more attention to the safety of driving autonomous vehicles. While manufacturing autonomous vehicles is easy, as it is fairly similar to making non-autonomous vehicles, the real challenge lies in enabling the vehicle to navigate through adverse weather conditions. Though autonomous vehicles are equipped with sensors like LIDAR, radar, and cameras, they fail during unexpectedly changing weather conditions like heavy snowfall, fog, or rain. Cameras’ view can be obstructed due to fog and heavy snow, thereby rendering them unable to see the roadsigns, lane dividers, bends, etc. Even LIDAR lasers become less accurate while attempting to run through snowflakes and showers.
For the advanced AI technologies powering these vehicles, insight into the precise prevailing road conditions is crucial. For this reason, manufacturers are working to develop systems that can gather all the data required to drive autonomous vehicles in extreme weather conditions.