Neighbors on one street in San Francisco's Richmond District seem to be witnessing the training of robot cars in the art of the three-point turn — over, and over, and over again.
15th Avenue in the Richmond District dead-ends at a gate to the Presidio, just before you get to The Presidio Landmark building. And while unknowing tourists and taxi drivers may occasionally end up at this dead end by accident, neighbors keep seeing the same kind of car, many times a day, doing multi-point turns where 15th ends just above Lake Street. And they're all Waymo vehicles — tricked-out, white Jaguar I-PACEs with those spinning Lidar things on top.
KPIX was on the case on last night's news broadcast, talking to neighbors who say the Waymo traffic, and that repetitive, three-point-turn action, is constant, day and night. Some describe hearing the low hum of the electric, autonomous SUVs as they're going to bed.
"There are some days where it can be up to 50,” says neighborhood resident Jennifer King. “It’s literally every five minutes. And we’re all working from home, so this is what we hear.”
King added, "We have talked to the drivers, who don’t have much to say other than the car is programmed and they’re just doing their job."
KPIX reporter Wilson Walker witnessed it himself, with the white Jaguars sometimes arriving practically on top of each other, and executing the same turn at the dead end.
“I awoke to a strange hum and I— Wilson Walker (@WilsonKPIX) October 13, 2021
thought there was a spacecraft outside my bedroom window.”
"There are fleets of them driving through the neighborhood regularly," says neighbor Andrea Lewin. "And it’s been going on for six, eight weeks, maybe more."
So what gives, Waymo? The company isn't talking so far, and didn't respond to KPIX's request for comment.
It's clearly some kind of machine-learning, software thing having to do with dead ends, or do-not-enter signs, or three-point turns in urban environments, and for some reason the programmers decided that this particular dead end on 15th Avenue was the ticket.
Of course, this is just another of many examples of the annoyance of these extra cars on the street that don't do the normal things humans do — and an annoying quirk of allowing San Francisco to be a testing ground for this technology.
Waymo has only been providing taxi service in its vehicles to regular San Franciscans since late August — and you first have to sign up for their Trusted Tester program in the Waymo One app. Prior to that, the vehicles were only on the road in testing mode, or taking Waymo employees where they needed to go. Waymo One on-demand taxi service is also currently available in Phoenix.
Trusted Testers agree to be part of Waymo's research program, and their trips will help the company "use data to help Waymo shape the future of fully autonomous ride-hailing."