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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

N.Y. Times faces culture clashes as business booms

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New York Times columnist David Brooks' resignation from a paid gig at a think tank on Saturday is the latest in a flurry of scandals that America's biggest and most successful newspaper company has endured in the past year.

Driving the news: Brooks resigned from the Aspen Institute following a BuzzFeed News investigation that uncovered conflicts of interest between his reporting and money he accepted from corporate donors for a project called "Weave" that he worked on at the nonprofit.

America rebalances its post-Trump news diet

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Nearly halfway through President Biden's first 100 days, data shows that Americans are learning to wean themselves off of news — and especially politics.

Why it matters: The departure of former President Trump's once-ubiquitous presence in the news cycle has reoriented the country's attention.

2021 sees a record number of bills targeting trans youth

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Republicans in at least 25 states have introduced over 60 bills targeting transgender children — a legislative boom since January that has beaten 2020's total number of anti-trans bills.

Why it matters: LGBTQ advocates say the unprecedented push was catalyzed by backlash to Biden's election and the Supreme Court ruling that workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender.

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