Waymo pits its tech against Atlanta's notoriously tough traffic

Self-driving car firm Waymo expands its testing to the bustling metropolis of Atlanta, Georgia.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
2 min read

Waymo, also known as Alphabet's self-driving car platform, has started autonomous car testing in Atlanta according to a post on the company's Twitter.

Waymo currently has the bulk of its test fleet in Phoenix, Arizona where legislation is in place to allow its vehicles to function without safety drivers, though Atlanta marks the 25th city to see Waymo testing. Waymo has also recently started winter testing in Michigan and has returned to testing in San Francisco.

"Now that we have the world's first fleet of fully self-driving cars on public roads, we're focused on taking our technology to a wide variety of cities and environments. We're looking forward to our testing in Metro Atlanta, and the opportunity to bring this lifesaving technology to more people in more places," said a spokesperson for Waymo, in a statement.

Waymo Castle Test
Enlarge Image
Waymo Castle Test

Atlanta is the 25th city in which Waymo is testing, following Detroit and San Francisco. Unlike the company's fleet in Phoenix, Atlanta cars will have safety drivers in place.


Waymo is getting started in Hotlanta by manually driving one of its autonomous cars around to map the city in advance of turning the AV's loose (with safety drivers, of course). Mapping is critical to any self-driving car effort and entails physically driving the streets of a city so that a vehicle can laser scan the physical environment with all of its curbs and street signs, crosswalks and traffic signals.

Building a diverse set of data on which to base a neural net is critical to the success of self-driving cars, so what makes Atlanta unique to all the other cities in which Waymo operates? Size and traffic, mostly. Atlanta is huge, and its traffic is notoriously brutal with some of the country's craziest drivers ripping around like the criminally insane during commute hours. Toss in high humidity, and you have a recipe for all kinds of hardware and software problems, things for which engineers will need to learn to compensate.

"With our talented workforce and legacy of innovation, Georgia is at the forefront of the most dynamic, cutting-edge industries like autonomous vehicles. We are thrilled to welcome Waymo to our state because fully self-driving vehicle technology holds tremendous potential to improve road safety, and we are proud Georgia is paving the way for the future of transportation," said Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, in a statement.

Waymo has been working in the autonomous driving space for the past nine years, and in addition to its world-first fleet of fully autonomous vehicles in Phoenix, it plans to launch the first driverless ride-hailing service there as well, later in 2018.

Waymo's autonomous Pacifica cruising through Castle

See all photos