Self-driving cars can improve road safety, prevent drunk and distracted driving, and offer new mobility options to people who are not able to drive themselves. But before any of that can happen, self-driving car companies must first convince the public that the vehicles are safe.
To help get skeptics on board, Mountain View, Calif.-based Waymo LLC published a 43-page safety report on its fully self-driving technology in October. In the document, Waymo, which was founded as the Google self-driving car project in 2009 and then spun off as a standalone unit by Google parent Alphabet Inc., provides a detailed look at its safety program and the measures it's taking to ensure its vehicles are up to any and all challenges encountered on the road.
For example, one challenge robocars will inevitably face is recognizing and responding properly to emergency vehicles—a task many human drivers have yet to master. To help train its vehicles, Waymo conducted a series of tests with the police and fire departments in Chandler, Ariz., the company said in the report. For the trials, Waymo self-driving minivans were outfitted with sensors that "observed" local police vehicles, motorcycles, ambulances, fire trucks, and even undercover vehicles as they trailed, passed, or led the self-driving cars, Waymo said. The data collected by the sensors, which included lidar, radar, vision, and audio devices, will help build a "library" of sights and sounds that will be used to teach the autonomous cars whether to yield, pull over to the side of the road, or come to a complete stop.