Traffic is hell, but what if the cars clogging up the roadways are all robots? That’s what some residents on one quiet street in San Francisco have discovered, with a seemingly endless parade of autonomous vehicles from Waymo driving down a dead-end street in the city’s residential Richmond district, turning around, and driving away.
“There are some days where it can be up to 50,” resident Jennifer King told KPIX 5 in this hilarious scene report. “It’s literally every five minutes. And we’re all working from home, so this is what we hear.”
Residents are confused as to why the Waymo vehicles — Jaguar I-Pace SUVs with rooftop sensors and high-tech compute systems inside — keep coming, one after the other, sometimes two or three at a time. They aren’t picking up or dropping off customers, despite Waymo recently announcing that it was going to start shuttling passengers around San Francisco.
A normally quiet neighborhood in San Francisco is buzzing about a sudden explosion of traffic. Neighbors say their Richmond District dead-end street has suddenly become crowded with WayMo vehicles. https://t.co/rD0iXmmL29— KPIX 5 (@KPIXtv) October 13, 2021
A spokesperson for Waymo chalked it up to one of the nearby presence of one of the city’s Slow Streets, in which vehicle traffic is limited through certain residential areas. As noted in the KPIX 5 video, the street the Waymo vehicles keep turning down is adjacent to one of these Slow Streets. ,
“We continually adjust to dynamic San Francisco road rules,” the spokesperson said. “In this case, cars traveling North of California on 15th Ave have to take a u-turn due to the presence of Slow Streets signage on Lake. So, the Waymo Driver was obeying the same road rules that any car is required to follow.”
As someone who covers the AV industry, I could also speculate about the need for companies to train their vehicle’s artificial intelligence software in all the elements of human driving, including messy maneuvers like the dreaded three-point turn. But I’m really just having too much fun watching these confused robot cars pile into this dead-end street over and over again.
It called to mind a recent event in Phoenix, in which a fully driverless Waymo vehicle got stuck at an intersection and then, when an extraction crew showed up, tried to run away before completely blocking a three-lane highway.
The obvious difference is that Waymo is still using safety drivers for its tests in San Francisco. In the video, you can see Waymo’s safety drivers turning the steering wheels, which suggests that the vehicles haven’t quite mastered the turn.
The incident is garnering some unwanted attention, including from one guy who runs a car company that’s under investigation for numerous crashes involving stopped emergency vehicles and really shouldn’t be gloating about things like this.
Haha— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 14, 2021
Update October 14th, 2:05PM ET: A Waymo spokesperson responded with a statement after this story published.