A 2015 report estimates the average urban commuter in the United States spends 42 hours annually stuck in traffic, which costs a combined $160 billion a year in gas burned and lost time.
While a more time and cost effective solution may be achievable in the not so distant future, self-driving car companies are continuously working to test and refine their technologies in order to improve mobility, safety and how we commute.
Waymo, a self-driving technology company, arrived in the City of Chandler in April 2016 to test and improve the software and sensor technology it had developed in Google’s labs since 2009. This made Chandler the fourth city in the United States with a Waymo testing program.
Last week, Waymo — in collaboration with the Chandler Police and Chandler Fire, Health & Medical Departments — conducted a demonstration to showcase how it teaches the self-driving cars to detect Arizona’s emergency vehicles.
Chandler First Chief Tom Dwiggins says, the department quite often encounters vehicles not properly pulling off to the right for emergency vehicles like fire trucks or ambulances, which is especially challenging for emergency medical technicians (EMTs) when every second matters.
Using a process called machine learning, the self-driving cars learn to identify emergency vehicles of all shapes and sizes – police cars, motorcycles, undercover cars, fire trucks and ambulances. By correctly identifying emergency vehicles, the self-driving cars can decide whether to pull over, move over or yield to the passing emergency vehicle.
Jaime Waydo, one of Waymo’s lead engineers, says much like humans, the cars become alert by picking up on different audio and visuals like sirens and flashing lights. It’s just a matter of programing the computers to recognize those cues and what to do when encountered on the roads.
Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny says not only does the self-driving car process react to the information faster than a human, but it also does so with a 360-degree view.
To date, Waymo has logged almost three million miles of autonomous driving in the four generations of self-driving vehicles that it has developed, including its new prototype with no steering wheel or pedals and new self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans.
Recently, Waymo launched the first public trail of its self-driving cars in the East Valley called the early rider program. It’s an opportunity for residents in Metro Phoenix to experience Waymo’s self-driving vehicles and provide feedback. The program is open to residents in Chandler, Tempe, Mesa and Gilbert.