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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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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