Waymo to test its latest self-driving car technology on the wet, wide streets of Bellevue, Wash.

Winter is coming, and Waymo is here for it.

Specifically, the autonomous driving company is in Bellevue, Wash., where it has started testing the fifth generation of its Waymo Driver technology in its distinctive, all-electric Jaguar I-PACE vehicles.

It’s the latest example of autonomous vehicle companies choosing locations for testing based on the distinctive characteristics of different geographies. Pittsburgh has potholes, San Francisco has hills, and the Seattle region has lots of wet weather, or at least it likely will in the fall and winter, when Waymo’s testing will take place.

Others who have conducted similar tests in the Seattle region include Amazon-owned Zoox and GM’s Cruise.

Waymo, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, got its start as Google’s self-driving car project. The company says it has brought each generation of its technology to the Seattle region, and it also has a group of engineers based in Bellevue who are not directly associated with the upcoming tests.

Waymo says its cars will have autonomous specialists in the front seat during its Bellevue tests. (Waymo Photo)

Some of Waymo’s cars have already started navigating the streets of Bellevue as part of the process of mapping the urban landscape and preparing for inclement weather. Ultimately there will be six vehicles operating in Bellevue over the next six months, said Will Shepherdson, a product manager within Waymo’s perception organization.

The testing in Bellevue “allows us to continue advancing the Waymo Drivers’ capability and allows us to continue validating its performance, so that we can safely scale our operations and bring this technology to more cities and more people,” Shepherdson said in an interview this week.

In addition to wet weather, he said, the company chose Bellevue specifically because the roads and overall driving environment are similar to other places where Waymo operates, specifically Phoenix and San Francisco.

The company’s cars will operate both autonomously and manually, but in both cases there with be a specialist in the front seat during the testing in Bellevue, the company says.

Waymo operates a ride-hailing service called Waymo One in Phoenix, Ariz. Its fifth-generation Waymo Driver was unveiled in March 2020. The company is also involved in autonomous trucking with its Waymo Via technology.

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