[9th Mar 2020] At Waymo, we’re building the World’s Most Experienced Driver – our combination of hardware, software, and compute that powers vehicles to safely get people and things where they’re going.
In order to navigate the complexities of driving – from the biker weaving and speeding through traffic on a foggy San Francisco morning, to the family pet rushing into the street to greet you at night – the Waymo Driver uses a comprehensive view of its surroundings and a detailed understanding of its environment to accurately reason about its next move. No one type of sensor on its own can provide that level of detail in all operating conditions; therefore, we’ve spent over a decade developing a single integrated system comprised of complementary sensors to give our Driver this comprehensive view of the world so that it can safely navigate complex environments.
Over the past few months, people have begun to notice more of our latest Waymo Driver cruising in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially since our all-electric Jaguar I-Paces look a little different thanks to our latest hardware sensor suite. Informed by 20 million self-driven miles on public roads and over 10 billion miles of simulation, engineered to tackle an even more diverse range of complex driving environments with unparalleled capabilities, our completely redesigned fifth-generation hardware sensor suite will enable the scaled deployment of the Waymo Driver.
Here’s a look at each of the sensors that form the latest generation to inform the Waymo Driver.
As one of the Waymo Driver’s most powerful sensors, lidar paints a 3D picture of its surroundings, allowing us to measure the size and distance of objects around our vehicle, whether they’re up close or over 300 meters away. Lidar data can be used to identify objects driving into the sun on the brightest days as well as on moonless nights.
Our next-generation family of lidars is designed to work together. Our new 360 lidar system provides a bird’s-eye view of the cars, cyclists, and pedestrians surrounding the vehicle. It not only helps the Waymo Driver navigate the complexities of city driving by distinguishing the opening of a car door a city block away, it also gives our trucks the ability to spot road debris hundreds of meters ahead on the highway, so there’s enough time for a Waymo driven truck to stop or make a lane change.
Simultaneously, our new perimeter lidars, placed at four points around the sides of the vehicle, offer unparalleled coverage with a wide field of view to detect objects closeby. These short-range lidars provide enhanced spatial resolution and accuracy to navigate tight gaps in city traffic and cover potential blind spots on hilly terrain. As a system, this new family of lidars is a significant upgrade, enhancing the Waymo Driver’s capabilities in a way that will help us as we scale our fleet to more challenging places.
With high-dynamic range and thermal stability over automotive temperature ranges, our vision system cameras are designed to capture more detail and provide sharper images in the toughest driving environments.
Our latest long range cameras and 360 vision system now see much farther than before, allowing us to identify important details like pedestrians and stop signs greater than 500 meters away. Through advanced design innovations, including custom lenses and precise optomechanical engineering, our vision systems enable much higher performance levels than cameras on cars today.
In addition, our new perimeter vision system works in conjunction with our perimeter lidars to give the Waymo Driver another perspective of objects close to the vehicle. For example, while our perimeter lidars detect obstacles directly in front of the vehicle with precision, our perimeter cameras provide our machine learning algorithms additional details to reliably identify objects, providing more context to the traffic scene.
Concurrently, our new peripheral vision system helps us reduce blind spots caused by parked cars or large vehicles. These peripheral cameras enable us to peek around a truck driving in front of us, seeing if we can safely overtake it or if we should wait. Together, these various types of cameras allow us to make decisions earlier, faster, and with even more information than we’ve ever had before.
While lidar helps us see objects and cameras help us understand our surroundings, radar complements both of these with its unique ability to instantaneously see and measure an object’s velocity (or lack thereof) even in tough weather conditions such as rain, fog, and snow.
Our decade of testing in the real world has taught us that it is beneficial when radar on self-driving vehicles provides the system with a persistent view of their entire surroundings. For our fifth-generation hardware sensor suite, we have redesigned the architecture, outputs, and signal processing capabilities to create one of the world’s first imaging radar system for self-driving – providing us with unparalleled resolution, range, and field of view to see the whole scene at once. Performance is further improved by overlapping the coverage between radars, and with the cameras and lidars as well.
While traditional automotive radars are capable of tracking moving objects, our new imaging radar has higher resolution and enhanced signal processing capabilities that allow it to better detect and track objects that are moving, barely moving, or stopped.
Our next-generation radar can also see objects at great distances, including detecting a motorcyclist from hundreds of meters away. Like with our other long range sensors, being able to accurately detect objects at greater distances gives us a longer reaction time to make a more comfortable experience for our riders.
Scaling production and growing our team
While part of my job is working with my team to design the most capable sensors, I also lead manufacturing because technology as advanced as ours does not exist in the industry today, and the only way to bring it to more people in more places is through achieving economies of scale.
With each generation of our custom hardware we’ve been able to bring down the cost of our sensors while delivering even more capabilities and compute power. With our fifth-generation hardware, we’ve simplified the design and manufacturing process so it can be production-ready, and our latest sensors deliver more performance than ever before, at half the cost of our previous generation.
We’ve already manufactured and integrated the first of our new generation sensors onto our Jaguar I-PACE platform. With the first of these new vehicles, we’ve completed comprehensive module-level and system-level tests to ensure our next-generation hardware can withstand whatever the roads throw at it—from stormy weather and salted roads, to extreme heat and dirt storms.
As we continue to build the hardware and software to power the Waymo Driver, we’re looking for people to join our growing team. At Waymo, our teams motivate and inspire one another, see their research implemented in tangible ways, and together make real steps toward a positive impact on the world of mobility. Whether you’re an engineer, researcher, or a curious and critical thinker driven to make the roads safer for everyone, we’re looking for people to help us tackle real-world problems. Learn more at waymo.com/joinus.