We already reported news about a new Waymo sensor hardware two days ago. Now Waymo’s head of hardware development, Satish Jeyachandran, has revealed some more details about the new hardware generation in the company blog. The Wired magazine filled in even more details.
Waymo refers to its hardware suite for autonomous driving as Waymo Driver, which in the present version represents the 5th generation. On the roof is a 360 degree LiDAR, which can see 300 meters and more. In contrast to the previous version, which can still be seen on the Fiat-Chrysler Pacifica minivans, the two LiDARs (one with medium and one with long range) have been combined into one. This is now a more compact design.
Around the car there are another 4 perimeter LiDARs (one in the front, one in the back, and one each left and right over the front tires). These should cover the blind spots around the car. The last two LiDARs are supplemented by a radar. Also on the roof there are two radars facing forward and sideways, as well as on the rear left and right). Thus the radars also provide a 360 degree view.
The system is supplemented by 29 cameras, 16 of which are located on the roof structure under LiDAR and several more facing forward in the roof box, some of which can see more than 500 meters in high resolution. They can even detect a human figure or a stop sign in the dark when it rains at a distance of 500 meters. Perimeter cameras mounted around the car cover blind spots and can also see in the near infrared range. The 16 cameras under LiDAR are also all equipped with windscreen wipers that can wipe off raindrops and dirt with windscreen wiper water.
The radars can also detect moving and stationary objects in higher resolution, and this too thanks to a 360 degree arrangement. Radars complement the other two sensor systems by providing reliable results even in weather conditions such as fog, rain and snow.
All parts together can then determine the speeds and directions of other road users more precisely. The roof box (Waymo Dome) is connected to the cooling system and the computing unit in the iPace trunk by cables and hoses integrated into the body and interior trim of the Jaguar iPace. These parts are even waterproof insulated in the luggage compartment, in case liquids leak from luggage in the trunk.
To highlight one detail again: all sensors, electronic components, antennas, housings and firmware were developed by Waymo itself. And those components can withstand temperatures ranging from low sub-zero in Michigan to high temperatures in Death Valley, as well as strong vibrations when driving over potholes and gravel roads.
When it comes to the exact cost of the hardware suite, Waymo continues to hold back, pointing out once again that the cost of LiDARs has been reduced by 90 percent. With a Velodyne LiDAR, as Waymo was using it just a few years ago before the in-house development of the hardware was started, one had to reckon with costs of 75,000 US dollars. It is estimated that a current sensor stack, as used by most off-the-shelf self-propelled technology developers, costs between $150,000 and $250,000 US dollars. For Waymo, the cost of an entire 5th generation stack could already be down to between $50,000 and $100,000.
Is mass production imminent?
If you look at the slick and automotive grade design of the sensor hardware, it looks suspiciously like series production. Combine this detail with the concurrent announcement that Waymo for the first time took on outside investors and raised $2.25 billion in capital, including Magna, the company that mass manufactures the Jaguar iPace, and consider the fact that Waymo announced 2 years ago that it has an option to buy 20,000 Jaguar iPace, and you cannot help but suspect that Waymo is relatively close to bringing this car to market with the 5th generation of the Waymo Driver.
The calculation for 20,000 fully equipped vehicle (iPace plus Waymo Driver) of between 80,000 and 100,000 US dollars per unit would cost between 1.6 and 2.0 billion dollars. Further money would then flow into the establishment of the service centers, and the 2.25 billion dollars collected would be well invested.
The company itself already seems to be very confident about the state of the art in some ways. The videos of driverless Waymos that have appeared – even in school zones – bear witness to this. So we wouldn’t be surprised if this year the big rollout of this technology to various cities and communities in the US begins.
This article was also published in German.