Waymo adds Robotaxi safety alerts to avoid collisions with exit doors

Robotaxi developer Waymo is taking passenger and bystander safety to a new level using the same technology that already enables its fleet of vehicles to offer autonomous driving in major metropolitan areas. Waymo has now added new audio and visual alerts to let passengers know when a cyclist or other pedestrian is approaching the exit door.

Waymo is a self-driving car project from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Inc., that draws on nearly 15 years of experience developing and testing various robotaxi vehicles in multiple states.

In 2019, after years of free trials, Waymo began charging passengers for automated guided vehicles in Chandler, Arizona. That milestone was soon followed by paid rides in San Francisco, which helped the company inevitably eclipse 1 million miles of driverless rides.

We soon learned that Waymo had plans to begin driverless test drives in Los Angeles as the company transitions its growing robotaxi fleet to an all-electric future. Operating in congested urban areas such as San Francisco and LA presents many roadblocks, and not just vehicles.

According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, collisions with cyclists, in which a vehicle’s door opens into moving traffic, are the second most common collision resulting in injury or death. Waymo has worked to prevent the dangers of “dooring” by leveraging the sensor technology its robotic taxis already use to safely and autonomously navigate city streets.

Photo credit: Waymo

Waymo uses its sensor technology to prevent door collisions

The Robotaxi network detailed the implementation of its new security alerts in a blog post today. Previously, Waymo has always advised passengers to check their surroundings before exiting a vehicle door, but it has now developed additional cues to warn passengers as well as bystanders who may be approaching a door.

Leveraging its existing sensor suite and software stack, the robotaxi company can now alert drivers with explicit audio and visual cues, alerting them that a cyclist or other road user is approaching the door of a specific Waymo vehicle while they are driving prepare to exit.

Waymo explained that the attention and safety of passers-by is just as important as that of its passengers, so its vehicles also feature easy-to-interpret iconography on the Waymo One’s roof lidar. These symbols provide a visual cue (see image above) and inform cyclists or other vehicles that a driver is entering or exiting the vehicle.

Not only does this signal that a stop is coming to pick up or drop off a Waymo driver, it also warns that a door could open quickly. Waymo says it worked closely with its Trusted Testers and User Experience team to develop the new “Safe Exit” notices and will be rolling out more convenience and security features in the future.

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