Waymo’s self-driving van heads to Tahoe for some time in the snow

Waymo is working on one of the key areas it still needs to tackle ahead of any general public launch of its self-driving technology: snow. The company’s vehicles still had a lot to learn in this specific realm as of late last year, and it’s one of the most challenging road conditions any autonomous vehicle can face, because of the effects of deep cold and blanketing snow not only on traction and vehicle handling, but also on sensors and optics.

Waymo CEO John Krafcik posted a tweet with an image of the Waymo Chrysler Pacifica minivan, kitted out with its in-house self-driving sensor technology, in a snowy setting at South Lake Tahoe in California. The Lake Tahoe location keeps Waymo within the domain of its license to test autonomous systems on state roads, but also provides snowy environs to test more extreme conditions and help it build out its flexibility in terms of weather conditions.

Waymo’s Pacifica vans began test drives on public roads in both California and Arizona in January. Other companies pursuing self-driving technology, including GM through its Cruise acquisition, have expressed their intent to also test in Michigan, where inclement weather conditions will help them focus in on that difficult area still in need of exploration and improvement.

Waymo has done testing in Tahoe previously, stretching back to 2012, using its earlier Lexus-based test vehicles. It’s aiming to test its tech in a wide range of environments, including in Kirkland, where it can see how it performs in rain and mist, and in Arizona, where arid, desert conditions and a surplus of dust are ready to hand.