Atlanta

Waymo driverless cars have hit Atlanta’s streets. Here’s what we’ve learned about them

ATLANTA — Autonomous cars from the driverless taxicab company Waymo have hit Atlanta streets.

Waymo said the cars are here as part of its “road trip” testing.

The driverless cars will be testing Atlanta’s famously difficult driving for the summer after spending winter in Buffalo and spring in Washington D.C.

“Trying to see how different Atlanta is to what we already know, how to drive today. Is there anything majorly different that we can learn from right now and what we can learn for the future?” Waymo’s Nick Rose said.

Waymo has no immediate plans to provide driverless taxi service in Atlanta this year like it already does in San Francisco, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

Instead, the vehicles will be mapping and learning. In Atlanta, there will always be human monitoring behind the wheel of the Waymo vehicles.

“Right now, we’re just mapping, exploring the world, seeing how the vehicle performs,” Rose said.

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Last fall, Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray flew to Austin, Texas to test out Waymo’s competitor, Cruise, who had announced an expansion to Atlanta.

Those plans are now on hold as Cruise has faced regulatory and safety concerns.

Two U.S. Senators, Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, just sent a letter to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration writing that when it comes to autonomous vehicles, “public roads are not a sandbox for manufacturers or operators to play in.”

Just last month, a Reddit user posted video of a Waymo taxi in San Francisco going the wrong way down the road.

“With that specific scenario, we’ve analyzed it in a billion different ways. And now we are trying to understand how we can make improvements there,” Rose said.

Georgia Tech Professor Srinivas Peeta is an expert in autonomous vehicles and said it is necessary to test the systems not just in simulations in a lab but on real roads in the real world.

“They need the data. They need the data in real-world contexts where they can interact and see where they’re doing well, where they are not so that they can build more intelligence into their systems,” Peeta said.

Waymo emphasizes that in their Atlanta testing the vehicles will always have a human inside.

“Safety is the core of everything we do at Waymo. Safety is the reason why this company was founded,” Rose said.

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