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Waymo to bring self-driving minivans back to Bay Area, but not for passengers

Waymo to bring self-driving minivans back to Bay Area, but not for passengers

The self-driving minivans of Waymo are set to return to the streets of the San Francisco Bay Area, three months after the company stopped public testing of its autonomous vehicles due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Waymo is planning to relaunch its fleet of self-driving minivans into Bay Area streets on June 8, according to an email acquired by The Verge. However, instead of transporting passengers, the vehicles will instead focus on delivering packages for non-profit organizations #DrawTogether, which gives art kits to children, and Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Transdev, which employs Waymo’s backup drivers for its self-driving minivans, said in the email that it will call back some of its workers depending on “job skills, business need, and seniority.” The deliveries to the non-profit organizations will only need one backup driver in each vehicle, and returning workers will undergo training sessions for new safety procedures that include social distancing and disinfection.

“Soon San Franciscans will also begin to see some Waymo vehicles back on the road, and we’re proud to provide charitable delivery support to community partners,” a spokesperson for the Alphabet-owned company confirmed with The Verge in a statement.

The pending return to the Bay Area follows Waymo’s restart of its testing program in Phoenix, as lockdown restrictions were eased earlier this month. Similarly, the company implemented new safety measures for returning workers, who were all required to undergo training. The autonomous vehicles will also soon also make their way back in Detroit and Los Angeles.

Waymo’s self-driving simulations

While Waymo’s vehicles were parked, the company continued developing its autonomous vehicle technology through simulations, which already played a major role in its operations before the coronavirus outbreak.

A single day of simulations is equivalent to 100 years of real-world driving, so most of the development work on any new software starts with simulations before rolling out to self-driving vehicles, according to Waymo. Real-world driving is still important, but it is comparably limited.

In simulations, Waymo may replay certain moments from 20 million miles of real-world driving by its test vehicles. Passengers may also be simulated, with machine learning models attempting to predict how driving behavior will affect the experience of passengers.


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