Waymo self-driving cars are learning to better handle emergency vehicles

Autonomous vehicles have to be equipped to deal with many, many different situations, and some of them involve emergency vehicles. Whether it is a police cruiser trying to pull over the self-driving car or an ambulance needing to drive past, autonomous cars must be able to respond appropriately and safely, a category of knowledge that Waymo has revisited lately. According to a long post recently published by the Waymo Team, June brought new efforts to improve the company's autonomous cars' abilities to detect these emergency vehicles.

According to Waymo, it recently held its first 'emergency vehicle testing day,' something that was conducted with both self-driving minivans and the Chandler Police and Fire department. A variety of emergency vehicles, including cruisers and firetrucks, were operated around and near the self-driving cars while sensors collected data on the various driving scenarios.

Typical tasks like following the cars, passing them, and leading them were performed, all of them being scenarios that a self-driving car may find itself in at some point. Waymo concentrated on gathering info like the sounds and imagery that are produced by these scenarios and emergency vehicles operating at various speeds and positions.

The company explains that it is building a library of this data so that the cars are better able to understand situations they find themselves in and to appropriately respond. Thanks to the effort — and the time and vehicles offered by the police and fire crews — Waymo says its autonomous minivans are able to hear twice the distance they could with the old sensors.

The vehicles are learning to detect where a siren is coming from — that is, to determine the direction the vehicle is likely coming from, an important part of deciding how to react to it. Various bits of hardware also enable the cars to spot the emergency vehicles once they're within a visible range, further refining how they'll respond.

SOURCE: Medium