Google’s Waymo is heading to the real world to see how everyday people take to self-driving cars.
The company is starting a free, experimental service this month that will carry people around the Phoenix, Arizona area in its self-driving test cars. But to get those cars ready, Waymo added new hardware and interior designs that not only help the vehicles see the surrounding environment better, but will transmit that information to those in the car. Technology chief for the project, Dmitri Dolgov, says the upgrades will also help ease passengers’ concerns.
Waymo will be using the Chrysler Pacifica minivans for the test, so that its employees can be in the driver’s seat and take control if necessary.
Bloomberg was given an inside look at some of the new hardware Waymo has installed, one of which are wipers on the test car’s lidar sensor. Tiny wipers were added to the spinning lidar on top of the test cars and are self cleaning, making sure the sensors always have a clear view of the world around it. According to Dolgov, the new sensors are able to see other vehicles and objects up to 200 yards away.
A special dashboard was also shown to Bloomberg, which displayed nearby cars, pedestrians and buildings, in hopes of giving people confidence that the car is competent and well aware of its surroundings.
Although more and more companies are now testing self-driving cars on public roadways, the technology has one huge hurdle to get over: gaining consumer confidence. It may be a small step for the industry, but Waymo hopes its public tests will start changing the perception of self-driving cars with general consumers.