On a recent beautiful day in Austin, a group of students from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) were curiously inspecting a vehicle.
But this wasn't just any vehicle. It was a fully electric Jaguar I-PACE outfitted with cameras, radar and spinning lidar sensors that allow it to autonomously operate without a human driver, and the students had a lot of questions.
Questions from the students ranged from autonomous driving computer science and coding to curiosity about career paths in the industry and how the technology behaves and drives on the road. Others expressed great interest in the radars on the vehicle and a few of the students reached across the passenger seat to honk the car's horn.
Team members from Waymo, an autonomous driving technology company with a mission to make it safe and easy for people and things to get where they’re going, were on hand to answer the students’ questions.
It was all part of an interactive technology demonstration for students, school administration and members of the broader Austin community that Waymo hosted April 11 in partnership with TSBVI, an educational institution and resource for Texas students of all ages who are blind, visually impaired, or DeafBlind.
Waymo’s autonomous driving technology could help people with disabilities independently get from point A to B, because the Waymo Driver carries out all the tasks of a vigilant, cautious, and safety-conscious driver.
The event reflected Waymo’s ongoing efforts to engage diverse local communities – nonprofits,policy experts, disability community advocates, and educational institutions – as it conducts testing of its technology in Austin. In March 2023, Waymo announced that it will be testing the latest generation of its fully autonomous driving technology on Jaguar I-PACE vehicles in Austin for several months.
"We appreciate the Waymo team for taking the time to explain the technology to our students and for giving them the opportunity to touch all the sensors and fully explore the car,” said Alex Arguello, Head of Community Engagement for TSBVI.
We appreciate the Waymo team for taking the time to explain the technology to our students and for giving them the opportunity to touch all the sensors and fully explore the car.
This is not the first time Waymo has engaged the Austin community or people who are blind in Austin. In 2015, Waymo hit a major milestone for the technology when Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, became the first person in the world to ride in a fully autonomous vehicle with no human driver behind the wheel. And he did so on Austin’s residential streets in a Waymo prototype vehicle called the Firefly.
To start the day off, Waymo's team presented to more than 90 community leaders and local organizations about Waymo’s mission, the company's technology and its testing in Austin.
Waymo also conducted a live Q&A session with the attendees, many of whom are people who are blind, visually impaired or DeafBlind. More than a dozen interpreters specializing in American Sign Language (ASL) and tactical interpretation ensured that attendees could fully participate in the session.
In the afternoon, Waymo's team welcomed more than 150 staff, administrators, and students from TSBVI to the technology demonstration.
Waymo’s team shared a small model of the Jaguar I-PACE vehicle they will be test driving in Austin, allowing students to physically interact with the sensors and gain a better spatial understanding of the car. The opportunity was especially valuable for the students who were blind, as they were able to touch the model to get a spatial awareness of the vehicle before interacting with it firsthand.
In a tweet, Waymo Co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana thanked the Austin community for the opportunity to showcase Waymo’s technology and how it could help expand mobility options for Austin.
Emily Coleman, Superintendent of TSBVI, also tweeted her excitement about the value Waymo’s autonomous driving technology could add for people with disabilities and those who cannot currently drive.
The event was part of Waymo’s ongoing efforts to expand accessibility and ensure the development of its technology includes the perspectives of people of all abilities. Launched in 2022, the Waymo Accessibility Network encourages disability advocates to provide feedback throughout the product design process, to improve access and mobility for a diverse set of riders.
Notable community organizations and nonprofits in attendance included the Austin Area Urban League, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Texas, Epilepsy Foundation of Central & South Texas, Austin Lighthouse, Texas School for the Deaf, United Way for Greater Austin, DB YEA!, Best Buddies in Texas, Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, and Open Doors Organization.
"It was so cool learning about the Waymo program and some of the new technology being developed,” said Dylan Bricker, Public Policy Fellow for Epilepsy Foundation of Central & South Texas. “I look forward to seeing your cars all over the streets here in Austin.”
Join us in the most important conversations about how autonomous driving technology may shape the future of safety, mobility, community, and society.