It seems like the push for autonomous vehicles is building momentum, even if the technology for truly driverless cars doesn’t exist yet. Self-driving taxis were given the go-ahead to begin charging for rides in California only a week ago, and now the Alphabet-owned Waymo has announced that it will be building a fake city in East Liberty, Ohio, to test its next generation of autonomous cars and trucks.
The testing ground will simulate dense urban environments under punishing, atypical conditions designed to test and improve Waymo Driver, the combination hardware-software package that powers the company’s self-driving cars. Apart from just taxis (Waymo publicly launched driverless for-hire cars in Arizona in October), the company is also looking to break into the shipping game with driverless Class 8 trucks (those hauling over 33,000 pounds).
“This new testing facility will model a dense urban environment and enable us to test longtail challenges you might never encounter on public roads,” a Waymo representative told Slash Gear, “as we continue to advance the fifth-generation Waymo Driver, our most advanced software and hardware (including lidar, cameras, and radar) yet.”
1/2 Waymo has secured two new facilities to advance the #WaymoDriver. First, we’re working with @TRCPG to co-develop an exclusive, first-of-its-kind testing environment that will model a dense urban environment. Second, we’re opening an R&D facility in Menlo Park, pic.twitter.com/WiX2vs2LxF
— Waymo (@Waymo) December 1, 2020
In Ohio, Waymo will be working with the Transportation Research Center, an “independent auto proving ground” to build out the urban course (no word if simulated pedestrians will play a part). Nothing has been constructed yet, but Waymo did release a slick video for the announcement yesterday of its autonomous Jaguar sliding through wet parking lots.
Additionally, Waymo will build a new research and development facility in Menlo Park, California, dedicated to testing Class 8 trucks specifically in early 2021. The exact acreage of either development hasn’t been released yet. Of course, building entire fake cities to test tech and train in isn’t a new concept; the U.S. government regularly builds fake border crossings and entire towns to simulate security strategies.
Meanwhile, in related news, today Uber announced that it had sold off its flying taxi division (a source of many spectacular renderings) to competitor Joby Aviation in an attempt at becoming financially solvent. The ride sharing company is also reportedly looking into selling its autonomous vehicle assets as well, although at the time of writing that remains unconfirmed.