After plenty of sun, Google's self-drive car to get the rain test

Company goes to Kirkland, Washington, to try out its experimental cars in a state where there is plenty of rain.
Written by Colin Barker, Contributor

Google's self-driving car.

Image: Google

In the movie Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hanks points to the city's legendary wet weather as a good reason not to go there. Now Google is taking its self-driving car there for exactly that reason.

After earlier testing in the sunnier climes of Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas, Google is looking for the rain in Kirkland, Washington, to provide valuable data on how the self-drive technology performs in the wet.

But while the climate may be appealing, it is not the only reason behind Google's choice of Washington: the state also has no special controls on self-drive technology and is looking to support it.


Washington governor Inslee: Looking forward to understanding "how self-drive technology may one day improve safety".

Image: Wikipedia

In a statement issued by Google, Washington governor Jay Inslee said: "We're looking forward to seeing the cars on the road and understanding more about how self-driving cars might someday improve safety and provide traffic relief."

Washington has plans in place to establish a testing ground for self-drive vehicles where all manufacturers will be welcome to take their vehicles for testing under conditions which will be exempt from the usual rules of the road. This will include the requirement for vehicles to carry human passengers who could take over in the event that something goes wrong.

According to The Guardian, this test centre will be located at the grounds of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a large US military facility of more than 85,000 acres, 50 miles south of Google's Kirkland office.

The head of local operations at Google's self-drive car division, Jennifer Haroon, said Kirkland was "a natural choice" for the testing as "it's a tech-friendly city". Also the temperate climate "will give the car manufacturers a chance to test the impact of rain" and Google has a large campus in Kirkland.

Google said that at first just one Lexus RX 450h SUV will be tested - it will have Google emblazoned on the side while it steers its way around the town. A Google employee will be in the car to take over the driving chores if needed.


Google's analysis of when and why self drive technology fails.

Picture: Google

According to Haroon, the self-driving car has been finding its way around the Kirkland streets since "late last year" but with a driver in control. She told the Seattle Times that the Lexus has been creating a map of the area.

The on-board sensors and cameras have been creating a detailed map of the downtown streets so that the car can know directly where it is "within 10 centimeters, or about 4 inches", Haroon said. That's important so that it knows the lane it's in and how close curbs and sidewalks are, she said.

Haroon urged the people of Kirkland who see the car on the street to go online and give the company feedback on how well the technology is driving.

Read more about self-driving cars:

Self-driving cars take another step forward with Google report

Google to transform self-driving car project into Alphabet company spin-off

Tesla hires creator of iPhone's processor to work on self-driving car tech

Japan tests self-driving cars to keep ageing motorists behind the wheel

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