Waymo autonomous taxi has to be rescued when confused by construction

·2 min read

For the past two years, YouTuber "JJRicks Studios" has been recording and posting his Waymo autonomous taxi rides in Chandler, Arizona. He chronicles both those with a safety driver on board and those that are full-self-driving with only the "Waymo Driver" (computer) and no human backup. A recent ride proved to be more of an adventure than most when the Waymo van became confused by a construction zone set off a series of mishaps.

The fun starts at the 12:30 mark. The self-driving van — sorry, the Waymo Driver — wants to turn right onto a multi-lane street, but the rightmost lane is closed. The van stops, not knowing what to do. Roadside Assistance is dispatched, but before it can arrive, the van starts up again and completes the turn, but then stops again between lanes, partially blocking traffic. Then it backs up a few feet and fully blocks the lane, continuing to do so even after the construction cones are removed.

After a while, the van starts up again but stops a few blocks later. Roadside Assistance is summoned once more, as the rider attempts to wave traffic around. As the human Roadside Assistance helper arrives, the van suddenly scoots ahead. Then it stops again, and Waymo's Roadside Assistance helper is able to climb into the driver's seat. The human driver completes the ride.

Waymo has issued an official statement regarding the incident:

"While driving fully autonomously through an extended work zone, the Waymo Driver detected an unusual situation and requested the attention of a remote Fleet Response specialist to provide additional information. During that interaction the Fleet Response team provided incorrect guidance, which made it challenging for the Waymo Driver to resume its intended route, and required Waymo's Roadside Assistance team to complete the trip. While the situation was not ideal, the Waymo Driver operated the vehicle safely until Roadside Assistance arrived. Throughout, Waymo's team was in touch with the rider, who provided thoughtful and helpful feedback that allows us to continue learning and improving the Waymo Driver. Our team has already assessed the event and improved our operational process."

For context, California requires self-driving operators to report the frequency of disengagements. On a miles-per-disengagement basis, Waymo has the best (lowest) reported rate of approximately 30k miles per disengagement, followed closely by Cruise. This is for the period from December 2019 to November 2020, according to The Robot Report.

Still, JJ's Waymo ride #54 shows that there's still plenty of work to do. On the bright side, Waymo waived the charge for this ride.

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