Self Driving Cars
Waymo self-driving Chrysler Pacifica

Waymo self-driving cars hit Los Angeles, but humans hands remain on the wheel

Three of the company's autonomous vehicles will build 3D maps and learn the LA driving style.

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Waymo this week introduced its autonomous cars to Los Angeles for the first time. Three of the modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans will 3D scan the city, but not pick up passengers just yet.

Instead of offering a commercial autonomous taxi service, as Waymo does in Phoenix, Arizona, the Los Angeles vehicles will instead by driven by Waymo engineers and used to create detailed maps of the city.

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They will also learn how Los Angeles citizens drive and discover if congestion in the city works differently to traffic in San Francisco. These learnings will be fed into Waymo's vast computer algorithm, which is hoped to one day drive a taxi with Level Five autonomy - meaning it can drive anywhere, at any time and in any weather, all without human assistance.

Waymo tweeted as the LA trials kicked off on October 7: "Starting this week, Angelenos might catch a glimpse of Waymo's cars on the streets of LA. Our cars will be in town to explore how Waymo's tech might fit into LA's dynamic transportation environment and complement the city's innovative approach to transportation."

Famed for its heavy traffic, Los Angeles will prove a tough but valuable test for Waymo's self-driving technology. But before the cars can take control, they'll be driven by humans and used to understand and learn about their new environment.

The vans used by Waymo in LA are fitted with the same lidar, radar and camera technology as the ones already used by Waymo in Mountain View, California and Chandler, Arizona - where the company runs a paid-for autonomous taxi service, albeit with human safety drivers behind the wheel for now.

Waymo engineers will be driving the test vehicles around the congested Miracle Mile section of Wilshire Boulevard, between Koreatown and Beverly Hills.

Speaking to Forbes, Waymo product manager for mapping David Margines said: "Congestion is a totally different thing and we're really excited to see how that congestion kind of manifests itself. Is it similar to San Francisco congestion and the behavior of San Francisco? Or given the way LA is kind of built around the vehicle, whether the layout of it has actually allowed drivers to make fewer lane changes, or double-park fewer times or create the types of situations that both humans and autonomous vehicles have challenges around."

Waymo is taking its vehicles to increasingly varied locations, including snow-covered roads in Michigan and, only recently, Miami during hurricane season.

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