Waymo’s Pacificas Pass Demanding Death Valley Heat Testing

July 17, 2017 - Written By Daniel Fuller

Waymo recently took some of its custom Chrysler Pacifica models to the Death Valley in California for heat testing, and the units managed to operate normally despite the extreme heat. According to Simon Ellgas, a senior Waymo thermal engineer that helped monitor the testing, it was hot enough out there during the test to melt the soles of his shoes to the road while he was outside the vehicle. While the Chrysler Pacifica previously underwent similar testing as part of becoming certified for consumer use, the additional heat generated by the AI systems and sensors inherent in Waymo’s self-driving gear necessitated additional experimentation.

Ellgas noted that the company’s self-driving systems had to operate in concert with the Pacifica’s own systems, engine and all, and be reliable enough to be depended on for transportation in any location. The testing consisted of driving in all sorts of conditions under the extreme temperatures of the region, including driving in heavy traffic, long periods spent with the vehicle idling, traversing roads with heavy slopes, and other such conditions that would normally prove to be at least marginally stressful for a vehicle. During the testing, Waymo’s specialized instruments recorded measurements for over 200 unique metrics every second, outputting a full spectrum of data on how the vehicle and the self-driving computer system were holding up in the heat. Naturally, passenger comfort was also a consideration.

Waymo conducted similar testing recently in the Lake Tahoe area but tested the vehicles’ mettle in the extreme cold rather than heat. During that testing period, the region was experiencing record snowfall, which required the self-driving vans to prove not only that they were equipped to navigate in heavy snow, but also that their vehicular and computing systems could cope with the low temperatures. The vehicles also passed those experiments, meaning that with today’s testing, it can be said that the joint creation of Waymo and Chrysler, the vehicle that is planned to be the first of its kind released for consumer use, can stand up to the hottest and coldest temperatures on the planet during operation. An update on the company’s self-driving endeavors is expected to follow later this year.