Having weathered fourteen winters in Michigan, I can tell you firsthand that snow there comes in many different forms: light fall, dense flakes, powdery dust and even slanted sleet. As these different snowy forms fall from the sky, they create all kinds of conditions on the ground, from solid banks of snow lining the street to a slippery, icy layer coating the roads.
For human drivers, the mix of winter conditions can affect how well you can see, and the way your vehicle handles the road. The same is true for self-driving cars. At Waymo, our ultimate goal is for our fully self-driving cars to operate safely and smoothly in all kinds of environments. That‘s why we’ve been running cold weather testing since 2012.
Now, just in time for the first snowfall of the season, Waymo self-driving cars will hit Michigan roads for the winter. Building on the snowy work we’ve done to date, we’ll be giving our vehicles even 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. And it will also build on the advanced driving skills we’ve developed over the last eight years by teaching our cars how to handle things like skidding on icy, unplowed roads.
Michigan is a natural choice for Waymo’s winter testing. In May 2016, we opened our 53,000 sq ft. self-driving technology development center in Novi so we could more easily collaborate with our Michigan partners. Since then, Waymo’s local engineers have been working on many different parts of our technology, including outfitting our fleet of Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans with our Waymo-designed and built suite of sensors. With a facility close by and roots planted in Michigan, we’ll be able to easily test our self-driving cars in the Greater Detroit area to further improve our technology.