Waymo is trying to reinvent the act of driving.
Behind miles of black-clad chain-linked fencing in a remote area of central California, the self-driving car company started as part of Google, has taken over 91 acres of the decommissioned Castle Air Force Base near the town of Atwater. It’s surrounded by strip malls, tract housing and farms with fruit trees and vegetables. Waymo calls this place, one of the key locations in the tech industry’s quest to perfect automated vehicles, “Castle.”
Consumer Reports was invited along for a press tour of the highly restricted facility. Our phones were confiscated before we were allowed inside the test cars. Reporters were instructed to take no photos, no tweets were allowed, and we all agreed not to reveal the Castle’s GPS coordinates. Here’s what we saw.
A Mock Community
Within sight of the air control tower that’s now part of a civilian airport, there’s an unmarked gate. Passing through, there’s an artificial community that’s helping Waymo to program the latest generation of automated vehicles. It’s a world of cul-de-sacs, roundabouts and hidden driveways. There’s a railroad crossing, but no trains. There aren’t a lot of buildings, but there are Waymo employees, nicknamed “fauxes” (pronounced “foxes”), who ride bikes, jaywalk and drive cars erratically in a bid to get the self-driving software to understand how to drive in the real world.
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