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Self-Driving Cars Getting Stuck In The Richmond Because They Don’t Understand Dead Ends

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You are probably seeing a lot of those Google-owned Waymo cars all over town these days, as they’re trying to figure out how to become fully autonomous, self-driving cars. But one tiny dead-end street in the Richmond District is seeing a lot of those Waymo cars, “up to 50” per day, according to residents, with the weird, white robo-cars showing up “literally every five minutes.” 

And according to a new report from KPIX, it’s because the Waymo cars are “confused” and still trying to figure out how to navigate dead-end streets.

“There are some days where it can be up to 50” Waymo cars, resident Jennifer King told KPIX. “It’s literally every five minutes. And we’re all working from home, so this is what we hear.”

Image: Google Maps

The corner being described here is 15th Avenue and Lake Street, seen above, to the immediate right of the little blue pedestrian symbol. It doesn’t look like a dead end in the map above, but it is in reality, with barriers and signs erected that say “Dead End,” “Do Not Enter,” “Except Bicycles,” and “Enter Presidio via 14th Ave Gate.”

And the difference between Google Maps and reality may be the cause of this problem. Because of the Presidio National Park, there are dead ends at the northern end of all but one avenue between 2nd Avenue and 24th Avenue. The only way through is 14th Avenue, but on Google Maps, it looks like you can go through on 15th Avenue. This is perhaps the reason why robot Waymo cars keep showing up on 15th Avenue and getting confused as fuck.

This is particularly galling  to residents, because Lake Avenue is a Slow Street for that stretch. They have many times complained to Google, but Google of course does nothing because they want to move fast and break things. Residents have also asked the drivers what’s going on. “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,” King told KPIX.

KPIX asked Google and Waymo for comment, and they apparently said “they would look into it.” But it seems implausible that Google does not know why their autonomous cars are doing this. The cars are either being fooled, or Google is programming  them to revisit challenging streets and figure out the rules. The fact that Google cannot be honest about this means that either the robot cars are not as smart as advertised, or that the company has ulterior motives beyond just making cars that drive themselves.

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Joe Kukura- Millionaire in Training

Joe Kukura- Millionaire in Training

Joe Kukura is a two-bit marketing writer who excels at the homoerotic double-entendre. He is training to run a full marathon completely drunk and high, and his work has appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on days when their editors made particularly curious decisions.

3 Comments

  1. Roy Jordan
    October 14, 2021 at 12:58 pm — Reply

    Why does BAS website constantly shift up & down vertically?
    It’s VERY DISTRACTING!

  2. Cadence
    October 14, 2021 at 2:52 pm — Reply

    Given the choice, I would’ve put all that resource into finishing fully automated public transportation, starting with trains.
    I find SF to be rather backwards. The power that be have made it really hard to drive and park in SF, supposedly to reduce traffic and discourage people from owning cars.
    In other developed metropolitans, public transports are so good that driving becomes more of a luxury for car enthusiasts, and those that drive for work, like truck drivers. But in SF, instead of improving public transportation, companies are wasting resources on personal car technologies.

  3. MJ Selkie
    October 14, 2021 at 3:17 pm — Reply

    Of _course_ Google has ulterior motives beyond just making a self-driving car. Would we really be all that surprised to learn the cars are scanning homes on the way for “loose” info, or that Google wants to buy that block for executive housing, or . . .

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