Transportation

Waymo Prepares for Winter AV Testing on Michigan Roads

Cold-weather testing of the company’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica will begin within the next few weeks.

by Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press / October 26, 2017

(TNS) -- Waymo plans to test its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans in Michigan this winter, starting with public-road testing in the greater Detroit area in the next few weeks.

The company, which has a development center in Novi, said it began cold-weather testing in 2012 and the Michigan test program would build on its earlier efforts, including in the Nevada and California border areas around Lake Tahoe. Waymo said the Michigan testing would begin around Novi.

Each of the vehicles on Michigan roads are to have a trained test driver on board, according to Waymo. The testing announcement by Waymo is the latest in a string of autonomous vehicle developments from tech companies, automakers and suppliers who are jockeying for primacy in an area expected to transform the automotive industry in coming years.

John Krafcik, Waymo's CEO, said cold-weather testing is a crucial element for self-driving technology development. Winter conditions such as falling snow and sleet affect how both people and self-driving vehicles see and how the vehicles handle in slippery conditions.

"We’re aiming to give our technology more practice driving in snow, sleet and ice. This type of testing will give us the opportunity to assess the way our sensors perform in wet, cold conditions," Krafcik wrote for an upcoming blog post.

Waymo said Michigan will become the sixth state after California, Washington, Arizona, Texas and Nevada where it is testing its vehicles.

"Over the last 8 years, Waymo’s vehicles have self-driven more than 3.5 millionmiles on public roads in over 20 American cities," Waymo said.

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.

Gov. Rick Snyder cheered the announcement.

"Waymo clearly shares our concern for and commitment to safety for Michigan residents. I’m proud that Waymo chose Michigan to expand its testing as they take their self-driving vehicles into the next phase. 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," Snyder said in a statement.

©2017 the Detroit Free Press Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.