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Waymo shows off driverless minivans in fake city

Google has revealed the self driving minivans it hopes could revolutionise the way we travel.

At a closely guarded ‘fake town’ testing facility called The Castle located 120 miles southeast of San Francisco, it showed where its cars complete their equivalent of driver’s education.

The tour included giving more than three dozen reporters rides in Chrysler Pacifica minivans traveling through faux neighborhoods and expressways that Waymo has built on a former Air Force located in the Californian Central Valley city of Atwater.  

 

Google has revealed the self driving minivans it hopes could revolutionise the way we travel. At a closely guarded ‘fake town’ testing facility called The Castle located 120 miles southeast of San Francisco, it showed where its cars complete their equivalent of driver’s education

Waymo, hatched from a Google project started eight years ago, showed off its progress Monday during a rare peek at its secret test facility.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Waymo passenger experience begins by with a screen welcoming people aboard the vehicle, and telling them to push a blue ‘start ride’ button on the ceiling of the car. 

Other buttons in the car include a call for help, which calls someone at a call center, pull the vehicle over and lock or unlock the doors.

During the demonstration test, the minivan moved out of the parking lot and the screen showed passengers an avatar of the van moving along the track.  

Waymo, hatched from a Google project started eight years ago, showed off its progress Monday during a rare peek at a closely guarded testing facility located 120 miles southeast of San Francisco 

Waymo, hatched from a Google project started eight years ago, showed off its progress Monday during a rare peek at a closely guarded testing facility located 120 miles southeast of San Francisco 

During the demonstration test, the minivan moved out of the parking lot and the screen showed passengers an avatar of the van moving along the track

During the demonstration test, the minivan moved out of the parking lot and the screen showed passengers an avatar of the van moving along the track

The minivans smoothly cruised the roads – driver’s seat empty and passengers in the back – at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. 

During the seven-minute long ride, the van drove around the track which was set up to mimic real-life driving conditions. 

For example, pedestrians and a cyclist passed by the van, and the van evaded them. 

By contrast, the Waymo-powered Pacifica minivans that have been driving volunteer riders in the Phoenix area still use safety drivers to take over control if something goes wrong.

‘CASTLE,’ WAYMO’S FAKE 100-ACRE CITY 

Waymo built ‘Castle,’ a hidden mock city that can quickly be configured to test different scenarios.

It’s located north of the Merced metro area where the Castle Air Force Base used to be an has been rented by Google since 2014.

As part of the initial two-year lease, the firm rented 80 acres from Merced Country for $456,000, being paid in $19,000 monthly installments.

It has different driving environments including residential streets, expressway-style streets, cul-de-sacs, and parking lots.

The Waymo test site is located north of the Merced metro area, where the Castle Air Force Base used to be

The Waymo test site is located north of the Merced metro area, where the Castle Air Force Base used to be

At Castle, the roads are named after famous cars, such as DeLorean, Bullitt, Thunderbird, Fury, and Barbaro.

For the structured testing, Waymo looks at how self-driving cars perform on real roads to determine how they need to practice – then they build what’s required at Castle.

The fake city has no buildings except one – a converted military dorm Waymo employees sleep in when they’re too tired to make it back to San Francisco.

It’s hidden, and you need GPS coordinates to find it. 

Castle is located north of the Merced metro area where the Castle Air Force Base used to be, 2.5 hours from the company's headquarters. There, Waymo is testing several types of self-driving cars, including Chysler Pacificas minivans

Castle is located north of the Merced metro area where the Castle Air Force Base used to be, 2.5 hours from the company’s headquarters. There, Waymo is testing several types of self-driving cars, including Chysler Pacificas minivans

But Waymo’s real goal is to get to the point where people in cars are nothing but passengers.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik told reporters that the company will be making some cars and freight trucks totally driverless fairly soon, though he didn’t provide a specific timetable.

‘We are really close,’ he said. 

‘We are going to do it when we feel like we are ready.’

The tour included giving more than three dozen reporters rides in Chrysler Pacifica minivans traveling through faux neighborhoods and expressways that Waymo has built on a former Air Force located in the Californian Central Valley city of Atwater

The tour included giving more than three dozen reporters rides in Chrysler Pacifica minivans traveling through faux neighborhoods and expressways that Waymo has built on a former Air Force located in the Californian Central Valley city of Atwater

The Waymo passenger experience begins by with a screen welcoming people aboard the vehicle, and telling them to push a blue 'start ride' button on the ceiling of the car

The Waymo passenger experience begins by with a screen welcoming people aboard the vehicle, and telling them to push a blue ‘start ride’ button on the ceiling of the car

Since Google began working on self-driving cars in 2009, dozens of established automaker such as General Motors and Ford Motors have entered the race, along with other big technology companies, including Apple and ride-hailing service Uber. 

The competition is so fierce and the stakes so high that Waymo is currently suing Uber, alleging that one of its former managers stole its trade secrets and took them with him when he joined Uber in 2016 as part of an elaborate scheme. 

During the seven-minute long ride, the van drove around the track which was set up to mimic real-life driving conditions. For example, pedestrians and a cyclist passed by the van, and the van evaded them

During the seven-minute long ride, the van drove around the track which was set up to mimic real-life driving conditions. For example, pedestrians and a cyclist passed by the van, and the van evaded them

The trial in that high-profile case is scheduled to begin in early December.

Waymo is hoping to infuse its technology into ride-hailing services such as its current partner, Lyft, and big-rig trucking companies. 

It also intends to license its automated system to automakers such as Fiat Chrysler Automobile, which is already using it in 100 Pacifica minivans.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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