The latest San Francisco driverless car mishap involves an autonomous Waymo vehicle driving upon a construction site, stopping in front of a trench in the ground, then having no idea what to do as construction workers have a good laugh at the robot car’s confused state.
There are two varieties of self-driving robot cars with no human driver currently rolling around San Francisco: the GM subsidiary Cruise vehicles with large reddish-orange stripe on the back and robot equipment up top that resembles a big, chunky ski rack; and the Alphabet-owned Waymo vehicles, which are all white, and whose robot equipment up top looks more like R2-D2’s head. And each robot car brand has its own unique set of beta-version problems — the Cruise vehicles have had issues where they suddenly stop in the street, while Waymo cars have had an odd tendency to congregate and do 50-point turns at dead-end streets.
Add we have another oddball issue to add to driverless Waymo behavior. The video above gives birth to the phase “AI self-driving vehicles - Still has Waymo to learn,” a joke that might stick if these things keep happening. In what appears to be the Outer Sunset, a video posted Saturday shows that a Waymo drove up to a street construction site with a large trench in the ground, and while it knew not to drive into the trench, the vehicle simply sat in the street immobilized and confused.
An amused narrator informs us in the video that “We’ve got a Waymo vehicle that just drove into a construction site and doesn’t know what to do. And there’s no one in it.” As construction workers surround the disoriented robot car and have a good laugh, they also try to move the orange traffic cones around to maybe help the vehicle figure things out, which does not work “I guess they don’t know what to do when they drive through construction zones yet,” our narrator concludes.
The SF Standard got a statement out of Waymo about the incident. “We navigate around active construction zones day and night. If our autonomous driving system — the Waymo Driver — is not sure of the semantics, it may pull over or come to a stop if it’s assessed to be the safest course of action in that instance,” that statement says. “Our autonomous driving system brought the vehicle to a safe stop and alerted the Waymo assistance team of the issue. We responded immediately and resolved the issue within a few minutes.”
It’s not the first time a Waymo has suddenly immobilized in the street, as you see another example of this above. And the general public is usually learning of these things through social media posts rather than company announcements, as Waymo has fought to keep its accident data secret, saying that there’s too much proprietary data in that information. So this grand self-driving car experiment, which SF motorists and pedestrians are now a part of whether we like it or not, is hitting a few obstacles. And in some cases, the autonomous vehicles themselves are becoming obstacles.
Image: @IsmaelMingarro via Twitter