What is Waymo? Learn more about Google’s self-driving spin-off

With the case beginning this week, we take a look at the history of Alphabet’s transportation subsidiary.

Waymo has been in the self-driving game for a long time - the company has been experimenting with autonomous vehicles in four cities in the US since 2009.

This week, a trial began in the US in which Waymo has accused Uber of stealing eight trade secrets to do with sensor designs in self-driving cars.

We take a look at the company, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, that’s hitting the headlines this week in the first high-profile legal battle over self-driving cars.

[Read more: Driverless minivans take to the road]

What is Waymo?

The company started as Google’s self-driving car project, but now has become a subsidiary of Google in its own right.

Since 2009 the company has been developing self-driving technologies and its vehicles have completed over four million miles on public roads.

The vehicles tested included a fully self-driving Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan, which was the company’s first vehicle built on a mass-production platform.

There was also the Firefly - cars which lacked steering wheel or pedals, but had custom sensors, computers, steering and braking.

Where have the vehicles been tested?


The cars have been tested in for cities: Kirkland, Washington; Mountain View, California; Metro Phoenix, Arizona; and Austin, Texas. 

What technology is in the Waymo?

The vehicles designed by Waymo can 'see' 300 metres in every direction and use sensors for bikes and cars, and other obstacles on the road.

The LiDAR (light detection and ranging) laser system, which is what the trial is focused on, uses laser pulses to measure distances.

Vision cameras see the world in 360 degrees and can spot traffic lights, construction zones, school buses, and the flashing lights of emergency vehicles.

Radar systems uses wavelengths to perceive objects and movement, so it can tell the speed of the other road users.

Supplementary sensors include audio detection for emergency vehicles and GPS.

[Read more: An autonomous car journey with a blind man convinced Google to launch driverless cars]