Waymo adds a collection of new accessibility features to its self-driving taxis


Waymo is taking advantage of its participation in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recent Inclusive Design Challenge to implement four new features aimed at making its robotaxis more accessible to more customers.

For starters, the dome above Waymo’s self-driving taxis will now be used to display the initials of the passenger they’re there to pick up. This feature makes it easier for passengers to identify their ride at close to medium distance on approach. The screen also displays a customizable “Car ID”, consisting of two colored letters that can be personalized in the Waymo app.

The app will also offer turn-by-turn navigation, but not just for the driver. The customer will also receive help finding the best route to their robotaxi using data on sidewalks, crosswalks and other obstacles passengers might encounter.

Also read: Judges rule Uber not obligated to provide wheelchair accessible rides in every city in the US

Additionally, a new distance-to-car compass has been introduced to help riders find their robotaxi where GPS might not quite cut it. It completes turn-by-turn navigation to find precisely where the vehicle will meet them.

Finally, the Waymo AVs will emit a melodic chime, which can be heard below. This feature is intended to help people with visual impairments find vehicles without the need to honk their horns.

“In our testing, a lot of riders really loved it,” said Kevin Malta, Waymo Product Manager. The edge. “Not to mention that the car horn can be a bit cacophonous. And so it was euphonic to be able to use that melody instead. Because we didn’t want to add to the traffic noise pollution.

According to Waymo, the new features were developed for the US DOT’s first-ever Inclusive Design Challenge. Although the company didn’t win (a team from Purdue University did), Malta says the ability to implement these features in real life was the real goal of participating in the challenge.

The Alphabet-owned company, like others in the robotaxi space, has used the example of increasing mobility accessibility for people with disabilities as a selling point for its service. Companies have would have have struggled to implement many accessibility features, and wheelchair passengers, for example, are still underserved. Waymo, however, says it is committed to involving passengers with disabilities in the design and testing process to improve transportation fairness.

“There may not be a human being in the front seat,” Malta said, “but we haven’t lost the human touch in the experience.”

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