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Waymo can now see around traffic and spot road signs from 500m away

Alphabet-owned self-driving car firm Waymo has outlined the ways in which the latest version of its autonomous technology is superior your average Sunday driver.

The fifth-generation version of the Waymo Driver system can now spot pedestrians and stop signs from 500 metres away, see a car door opening from a city block away, identify debris on the road from a good distance, and even ‘peek’ around other vehicles to make sure it’s safe to overtake them.

Thanks to a new 360 lidar system, the vehicle’s computing system will have a bird’s-eye view of everything surrounding the car, including a long-range, forward-facing camera for spotting items off in the distance. Those sensors are combined with front, back, left and right cameras in order to see objects in close proximity. Thanks to radar complementing the lidar system, Waymo also says the new system can detect the velocity (or lack thereof) of an approaching object, even in rain, snow or fog.

Related: Death by driver-less car – who is to blame?

In an official blog post, Waymo explains: “Our latest long range cameras and 360 vision system now see much further than before, allowing us to identify important details like pedestrians and stop signs greater than 500 meters away.”

A labelled diagram of a car

Waymo also says the new system will make it possible to see if the autonomous vehicle can overtake a truck ahead in front or hang fire until the road becomes clearer.

The firm adds: “Concurrently, our new peripheral vision system helps us reduce blind spots caused by parked cars or large vehicles. These peripheral cameras enable us to peek around a truck driving in front of us, seeing if we can safely overtake it or if we should wait. Together, these various types of cameras allow us to make decisions earlier, faster, and with even more information than we’ve ever had before.”

Google says the new tech is the culmination of 20 million self-driven miles.

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