Waymo Minivans Can Now Detect And Avoid Emergency Vehicles

July 12, 2017 - Written By Mark Real

Waymo is currently on a quest to comprehensively collect relevant data to better detect ambulances and other emergency vehicles while on the road. Waymo, in collaboration with the Chandler Police and Fire, is using equipment like sensors, LIDAR and vision systems in order to gain necessary information about how emergency vehicles look and sound in different driving situations. This setup is needed to ensure the most comprehensive data collection possible. These pieces of information can then be incorporated into the vehicle’s software which should help in the future identification of ambulances, police cars, fire trucks, and even undercover vehicles. Once the emergency vehicle is recognized, the Waymo minivans may then clear off the former’s path. This behavior ensures the safety of the passengers in both the minivan and emergency vehicle as it prevents incidents like collisions.

As it is of utmost importance that emergency vehicles are identified as quickly as possible, there is also a need to design improved sensors and hardware. In this case, Waymo installed improved audio sensors that are capable of detecting the direction where sounds originate. These sensors may pinpoint the direction of ambulances and firetrucks through their sirens which should then help in determining the best possible action on the part of the automated vehicles. Waymo has also significantly improved the range of its audio sensors compared to the previous set of sensors it utilizes, allowing its vehicles to recognize sounds twice as far than it previously could. Through a custom-built vision system, the automated minivans may also use visual clues like flashing lights to improve its identification of emergency vehicles.

The results of real world driving tests have been very promising, which clearly shows that the combination of comprehensive data collection and the inclusion of new sensors have been a success. For example, Waymo’s automated minivan decided to not cross an intersection upon detecting a nearby ambulance. This decision was made despite other nearby vehicles moving through the intersection after the traffic light went green. Within the next few years, improved technology, enhanced sensors, and more comprehensive data collection should definitely improve the safety of automated vehicles. This, in turn, could boost road safety for everybody once the aforementioned vehicles become widespread.