Robotaxi developer Waymo is taking passenger and bystander safety to another level using the same technology that already allows its fleet of vehicles to offer autonomous rides around major metropolitan areas. Waymo has now added new audio and visual alerts to inform passengers if a cyclist or other passerby is approaching the exit door.
Waymo is a self-driving car project from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Inc., that is approaching nearly 15 years of experience developing and testing various robotaxi vehicles in multiple states.
After years of free test rides, Waymo began charging passengers for driverless transportation in Chandler, Arizona, in 2019. This milestone was soon followed by paid rides in San Francisco, helping the company inevitably eclipse 1 million miles of driverless trips.
We soon learned Waymo had plans to begin driverless test rides in Los Angeles as the company transitions its growing robotaxi fleet into an all-electric future. Operating in congested urban areas like San Francisco and LA presents plenty of obstacles on roads, and not just from vehicles.
According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, collisions with bicyclists when a vehicle’s door opens into moving traffic is the second most common collision that results in injury or death. Waymo has worked to prevent the dangers of “dooring” by utilizing the sensor technology its robotaxis are already using to navigate city streets safely and autonomously.
Waymo utilizes its sensor tech to prevent door collisions
The robotaxi network explained the implementation of its new safety alerts in a blog post today. Previously, Waymo has always alerted its passengers to check their surroundings before exiting any door of the vehicle, but it has now developed additional cues to alert passengers, as well as those passersby that may come into proximity to a door.
By leveraging its existing sensor suite and software stack, the robotaxi company states it can now alert riders using explicit audio and visual cues, warning them that a cyclist or other road user is approaching a given Waymo vehicle’s door as they prepare to exit.
Waymo explained that the attention and safety of passersby are just as important as that of its passengers, so its vehicles also display easy-to-interpret iconography on the Waymo One’s rooftop lidar. These icons offer a visual cue (see featured image above), informing cyclists or other vehicles that a rider is entering or exiting the vehicle.
This not only signals that a stop to pick up or drop off a Waymo rider is coming but also warns that a door might quickly open. Waymo states it worked closely with its Trusted Testers and User-Experience Team to develop the new “Safe Exit” cues and will continue to introduce more comfort and safety features in the future.