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A Waymo van learns how to navigate parking lots. Photo: Waymo

Waymo's self-driving vans are learning to share the human driver hatred of shopping mall parking lots.

Why it matters: Parking lots are one of the most difficult environments for a self-driving car to master: unruly vehicles, darting pedestrians and the occasional runaway shopping cart contribute to a Wild West atmosphere.

What's happening: Waymo, a self-driving development company, is teaching its automated test vehicles how to navigate this chaotic environment by practicing on 91 acres at the former Castle Air Force base near Merced, Calif., Popular Science reports.

The state of play ... Engineers can dial up the complexity in a variety of ways:

  • They can control cars reversing out of parking spots, traveling the wrong way down a lane or cutting across empty spaces.
  • They can add people carrying large packages — which affects how the car's perception system sees them — and cause them to dart in front of the car's path.
  • They taught Waymo's vans to be cautious around dumpsters, which can obscure a shopping cart rolling out into traffic.

The bottom line: Just like on roadways, Waymo must map out the parking lot, including details like the orientation of angled parking stalls for cues about the direction of traffic.

  • Parking lots are uniquely challenging, Waymo's Stephanie Villegas tells Popular Science.
  • “They don’t really have standardized rules for how people should and can move about within them. They’re just kind of lawless."

Go deeper: Companies get innovative to fill in urban transportation gaps

Go deeper

AOC and Ilhan Omar want to block Biden’s former chief of staff

Reps. Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar are boosting a petition against Joe Biden nominating his former chief of staff to a new role in his administration, calling Bruce Reed a "deficit hawk” and criticizing his past support for Social Security and Medicare cuts.

Why it matters: Progressives are mounting their pressure campaign after the president-elect did not include any of their favored candidates in his first slate of Cabinet nominees, and they are serious about installing some of their allies, blocking anyone who doesn't pass their smell test — and making noise if they are not heard.

2 hours ago - Podcasts

Butterball CEO Jay Jandrain talks turkey

Butterball estimates that it sells one out of every three Thanksgiving turkeys, but knows that this year's celebrations will be different than years past.

Axios Re:Cap talks with the turkey giant's CEO Jay Jandrain about what people are buying, what they're asking the "Turkey Talkline" and what the pandemic has meant for his business.

Biden introduces top national security team

President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Tuesday at an event introducing the incoming administration's top national security officials, where he told the story of his stepfather being the only one of 900 children at his school in Poland to survive the Holocaust.

What they're saying: "At the end of the war, he made a break from a death march into the woods in Bavaria. From his hiding place, he heard a deep rumbling sound. It was a tank. But instead of the iron cross, he saw painted on its side a five pointed white star," Blinken said.

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