Self-driving car tested on Lake Tahoe’s snowy roads |

Self-driving car tested on Lake Tahoe’s snowy roads

Claire Cudahy
Waymo tested its self-driving cars in South Lake Tahoe this winter.
Waymo / Twitter

Self-driving car company Waymo was in South Lake Tahoe recently gathering data on operating its vehicles in snow — one of the hurdles in getting autonomous cars ready for public use.

“Making snow angels in Tahoe,” tweeted Waymo, a Google project that officially became a company this December, on March 27. “We’re testing our self-driving Pacificas in cold weather & collecting snow data to train our software.”

The company is adding 100 of these 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to its fleet.

Waymo’s self-driving vehicles use cameras and LiDAR, a light detection and ranging radar that creates 3D maps of the car’s surroundings. However, weather conditions like snow and heavy rain can obscure roads and lane markings, interfere with the vehicle’s sensors, and affect vehicle traction and handling.

Waymo has conducted similar tests in Lake Tahoe since 2012 with its modified Lexus vehicles. They have also collected data on driving in rain and mist in Kirkland, WA and in dust and extreme heat in Austin, TX and Phoenix, AZ, according to the company.

But Waymo, which began testing its technology in Mountain View back in 2009, is not alone in the autonomous car market — there are 27 companies testing its vehicles in California and beyond.

Last year, Ford conducted snow driving with its vehicles at a testing site in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The cars aren’t entirely driver-less just yet. At present, California state law requires a trained human to sit behind the wheel on public roads and restricts driving to testing, but new proposed regulations are paving the way for self-driving cars to hit the market.

Among other provisions, the proposed regulations require that a manufacturer get written approval from the local jurisdiction before going completely driver-less. A communication link to the car must be in place, as well as a plan for remote operation so a human can take over when necessary.

The regulations, released by the California Department of Motor Vehicles on March 10, are currently in the 45-day public comment period. A public hearing will be held in Sacramento on April 25 to discuss the rules.

Right now California is the only state that requires companies publicly report crashes and instances when the human inside the self-driving car takes control of the vehicle.

The proposed guidelines for self-driving cars would take this one step further and forbid a company from advertising a vehicle as “autonomous” unless it meets certain criteria.

According to Waymo, the company has self-driven more than 2 million miles on city roads, plus an additional 1 billion miles in simulation in 2016 alone.

They back up the need for these vehicles with data: 1.25 million deaths worldwide in 2014 from vehicle accidents with 32,675 of those in the U.S. Approximately 94 percent of the U.S. fatalities are a result of human choice or error, with alcohol leading the pack, followed by speeding, distraction and drowsiness.

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