Watch Waymo's Virtual-Reality View of the World

The company released a 360-degree VR representation of what its robocar sees

1 min read

Graphic of intersection with hazards labeled.
Image: Waymo

Waymo, the robocar subsidiary of Alphabet, seems to be painting the walls and putting an apple pie in the oven before showing off its house to prospective buyers or partners.

I say that because the formerly rather secretive company had to put a lot of work into making this theater-in-the-round version of what its self-driving Chrysler Pacificas see as they motor around the metro area surrounding Phoenix, Ariz. 

You can use your mouse to drag the video through its 360 degrees of glory, but you’d be better off using a VR viewer or the YouTube app on your phone (while spinning yourself on a swivel chair).

It’s a simplified, even a dumbed-down, vision of what the car gets from its many different sensors. That includes such unrepresentable things as the absolute (rather than merely the relative) distance to objects; the presence of metallic components; the speed at which objects approach or pull away; and their precise location on a map.

The most human part of the exercise comes at the end of the video, when you get a sense of what it’s like to sit in the back seat—with no one sitting in the front.

For some time, that’s been street-legal in Phoenix, an easy-peasey regulatory environment. Now, after yesterday’s announcement by California’s Department of Motor Vehicles, it’ll even be allowed by the toughest regulators. Any of the 50-odd companies on California’s robocar approval list will be able to dispatch experimental vehicles on public roads without having safety driver inside, beginning on 2 April. The only proviso is that the company be able to take over control of the car remotely, a technology that is now emerging.

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