Self-driving cars are going to be fitted with a whole lot of sensors, chips, and other electronics, so it makes sense to check that all of this works in extreme environments.
That’s why Waymo sent its self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans to California’s Death Valley this summer, which has the highest recorded temperature in the world, at 134F.
Waymo had already conducted “extensive tests” in an aerothermal wind tunnel prior to the trip, which is able to mimic extreme heat and cold. After almost a year of controlled environment tests, it gave the green light to the heat-seeking journey.
The minivan took a road trip from Davis Dam to Las Vegas to Death Valley, testing the car at each step of the way. Davis Dam has steep desert roads, Las Vegas has long waits in traffic, and Death Valley is the ultimate extreme heat test.
From Tahoe to the desert
Automakers have conducted extreme weather tests for decades, but the self-driving car provides more worries, as most of the electronics produce their own heat. Waymo did not say if it has added any other features to the car to reduce the heat or better ventilate the car.
Waymo carried out similar tests at low temperatures in Lake Tahoe earlier this year.
Even though the self-driving cars are not for sale, Waymo is letting people test the cars in Phoenix, Arizona. Before too long, that may turn into a ride-sharing or shuttle platform, available in many U.S. cities. It may be looking to have everything covered before riders start paying for their rides.