Alphabet trains self-driving cars in a virtual world and a 'fake city' in rural California

Key Points
  • Alphabet subsidiary Waymo is testing self-driving cars using virtual worlds in software it designed and calls Carcraft.
  • It also has a secluded base in rural California where it tests complicated real-world scenarios like roundabouts and driveways.
  • The details of the tests, revealed by The Atlantic, show how far ahead Alphabet is in the race to self-driving cars.
Waymo unveils a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. on January 8, 2017.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Alphabet's Waymo subsidiary is training self-driving cars by using virtual worlds and a real-world testing ground near Merced, California, according to a report in The Atlantic.

The report offers new insight into the massive effort Alphabet is expending in self-driving cars, and suggests how hard it will be for other companies to catch Waymo, which began as a Google division eight years ago.

The company has built software called Carcraft — named after the popular game "World of Warcraft" — that it uses to test self-driving car software in virtual re-creations of cities like Mountain View, California, and Austin, Texas. The company drives 8 million virtual miles every day, concentrating on particularly tricky road conditions. By way of comparison, the company's real self-driving cars drive about 3 million miles a year.

Waymo also has built what the report calls a "fake city" near Merced, California, several hundred miles from the company's main campus in Mountain View. In Merced, it tests cars on roadways meant to simulate complicated real-world conditions, like roundabouts or driveways in a suburban development.

Read the full report here.