Florida’s Heavy Rain Will Help Test Waymo Autonomous Vehicles

The company will start its operations in Naples on a closed course to test the sensors and computing abilities. The vehicles will then roll out to public roads in Miami and then along highways as far north as Orlando.

by Kevin Spear, Orlando Sentinel / August 20, 2019

(TNS) — Waymo announced Tuesday it will bring a few of its self-driving cars to Florida within coming days to test their abilities during heavy rains, but with a human doing the driving to collect data on how the cars perform.

The cars, loaded with radar, optical and lidar -- or laser -- instruments, will be easy to recognize on highways between Orlando, Tampa, Fort Myers, and Miami.

A much-watched industry leader in developing autonomous vehicles, Waymo is a subsidiary along with Google of Alphabet Inc. Its self-driving cars have been on urban and rural roads in Arizona and other states for several years.

“Rain can affect our image quality and lidar detection, so it’s important we test our sensors to better understand its impact to develop capabilities that can handle it,” spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson said.

In the Phoenix area, Waymo has been steadily expanding a program that functions much like Lyft or Uber. So far, all of its cars providing rides for hire have been accompanied by a driver trained to take control when needed.

“At this time, we’re not yet launching a rider program in Florida,” Georgeson said.

Waymo will start its Florida operations in Naples on a closed course to test the sensors and computing abilities of its cars.

The vehicles will then roll out to public roads in Miami and then along highways as far north as Orlando.

The cars will be manually operated by drivers “to collect data of real-world driving situations in heavy rain,” Waymo states in a blog post.

“Over the last few years our testing has taken us to snowy Novi, Michigan, rainy Kirkland, Washington, foggy San Francisco, and of course those dusty haboobs in Phoenix, Arizona,” the blog post adds.

Florida has been promoting its eagerness to attract research, development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.

Early this year, state lawmakers enacted what they billed as some of the most friendly autonomous-car legislation in the nation. Among several provisions, the new law specifies that self-driving cars are not required to have a human driver.

“We've also rain tested in Washington where you can typically expect drizzles fairly reliably,” Georgeson said. “However, we’re interested in the heavy rainfalls in Florida to start understanding the range of precipitation. Additionally, Florida allows us to continue our rain testing through the summer months when it’s hurricane season in the state.”

Others developing self-driving cars include Ford, GM, Uber, Lyft and Tesla.

Waymo has deployed nearly 600 vehicles in Arizona, Texas, Michigan and Washington. The company has not disclosed the cost of its extensively retrofitted cars.

In Florida, Waymo will test Chrysler Pacificas and a Jaguar I-Pace.

“Heavy rain can create a lot of noise for our sensors,” the Waymo blog post states. “Wet roads also may result in other road users behaving differently. Testing allows us to understand the unique driving conditions, and get a better handle on how rain affects our own vehicle movements, too.”

©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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