Self-Driving Cars Getting Stuck In The Richmond Because They Don’t Understand Dead Ends
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.”
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
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.
Almost the highlight of the tweet up was @Waymo, which had to abort bc it couldn't process that many people using a public space. We love climate-friendly road users! #SlowLake #SlowStreets pic.twitter.com/Hek1FXiaQ2
— Alex | 亞歷山大 | 🏙️ (@goldendenizen) August 29, 2021
“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.”
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.
— Alison E. Berman 🌎 (@DigitAlison) October 10, 2021
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.
@Waymo I see your vans drive on Lake Street in the Richmond District very regularly. This street is closed for thru traffic for pedestrians. Please change your route to avoid this street. Lake Street is for walkers & bikers, NOT autonomously-driving minivans.
— harry (@apkqr) January 21, 2021
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.