Are we there yet? This is a common refrain during long summer road trips, and also when your job is researching self-driving cars and autonomous drive systems. If your vacation drive happened to be as a passenger in Waymo’s self-driving vehicle simulator, right about now you’d have passed the very edge of the Milky Way Galaxy.
- Google’s Waymo self-driving car division records 10-billion miles of R&D
- Driving 10 billion miles would take you to the edge of the Milky Way galaxy
- On average, driving to the dwarf planet Pluto takes half this distance
- Waymo has been testing autonomous drive systems for more than 10 years
And no, you’re still not there yet.
Despite reaching galactic proportions, Waymo, the self-driving research and development division of tech powerhouse Google, still has a long road ahead before fully driverless vehicles become a reality. But, thanks to massive computer simulations, the voyage to this distant point is getting shorter all the time.
In its press announcement, Waymo said its simulation research has the equivalent of 25,000 self-drive vehicles driving 24-hours a day. This allows for multiple tests of different driving scenarios, to see how changes in everything from sensor placement, to weather conditions, could influence an autonomous vehicle’s driving behavior.
Waymo’s chief technology officer, Dmitri Dolgov, emphasized the importance of combining both real-world driving studies, and large-scale simulations. “If you’re just getting started, it doesn’t matter, you’re working on the basics so you can drive a few miles or tens of thousands of miles in the real world,” said Dolgov, in reference to newcomers to the self-driving arena. “But as the system matures, and you have a system that works great 99.99% of the time, it really requires very large-scale simulation, and very large-scale driving in the real world.”
For its part, having been working on self-drive cars for more than a decade, Waymo is something of a deep-space probe when it comes to researching autonomous drive systems. The tech firm has inked multiple agreements with major automakers, including Fiat Chrysler and Jaguar Land Rover. In addition to its simulator work, Waymo has logged more than 5 million miles of real-world testing throughout the U.S.