To the uninitiated, riding shotgun in a self-driving car might seem like a scary proposition. Part of the reason is because we are simply not used to seeing a vehicle navigate itself without a human driver behind the wheel, so the image of a potentially deadly hunk of metal motoring down a busy street is inherently concerning. Waymo seems to recognize this, so it has gone and launched a 360-degree virtual reality experience that puts users in the rear seat of a self-driving car.
Much of the 3-minute video is spent explaining how Waymo's various sensors survey the landscape to identify all the moving parts, be they other cars, guys and gals on bicycles, or pedestrians hanging out in a parking lot. The video also points out that Google has been working on self-driving cars for close to a decade (since 2009), developing a range of technology that its engineers built from the ground up.
One of those technologies is LIDAR, which throws out millions of laser beams per second. The purpose of LIDAR is to frame a detailed picture of the world in 360 degrees. This is supplemented with RADAR to help detect the distance and speed of other objects, and high resolution cameras that, among other things, can tell if a traffic sign is red or green. All of the data collected is combined and processed in real-time.
As it also is with humans, there is no substitute for experience. Waymo points out that it's fleet of self-driving cars have notched over 5 million miles to date on public roads. That does not include miles driven on Waymo's private test track or simulated miles in software, the latter of which stands at 2.7 billion (with a "b") miles in the virtual world.
"We’re driving more and learning faster, and we’re doing it in increasingly diverse conditions. We’ve now test driven in 25 US cities, gaining experience in different weather conditions and terrains: from the snowy streets of Michigan, to the steep hills of San Francisco, to the desert conditions of Greater Phoenix. And because the lessons we learn from one vehicle can be shared with the entire fleet, every new mile counts even more," Waymo says.
The VR video Waymo released combines footage and real-time data from a trip around Metro Phoenix, Arizona, in one of the company's Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans. You don't need a VR headset to view it—just play the YouTube video like any normal video, and look around by clicking or tapping and dragging with your mouse or finger.
Thumbnail and Top Image Source: Waymo