Google's Waymo to test driverless cars on snow, potholed Michigan roads

Google's Waymo to test driverless cars on snow, potholed Michigan roads

Initiative will tap into Waymo tech office, Chrysler engineering support.

October 27, 2017

Novi, Michigan – Google’s self-driving car subsidiary Waymo plans to start testing autonomous vehicles in Michigan in the coming months to see how cars that use camera and laser sensors to navigate handle snowy conditions.

”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,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said in a blog post. “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.”

Between its heavy snowfalls and substandard pavement, the Detroit region offers a wide set of challenges to any driver – human or machine. So, choosing that region for autonomous testing is Google’s way of evaluating real-world worst-cast scenarios.

And it doesn’t hurt that Waymo has a technical office in the Detroit suburb Novi and that it works closely with FCA US LLC, having converted a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans for autonomous operation.

”Michigan is a natural choice for Waymo’s winter testing,” Krafcik said. “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.”

About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.