Science

‘Confused’ Waymo self-driving cars are flooding a dead-end street in San Francisco

Residents of what is typically a quiet neighborhood in San Francisco are being plagued with humming from several Waymo vehicles crowding a dead-end street.

The mysterious sightings are coming from the end of 15th Avenue,  where up to 50 of the self-driving cars appear to be confused as they enter the area, residents told  local news station KPIX.

Resident Jennifer King told KPIX that the vehicles, which are being tested in the California city, all make a multi-point turn and then just leaving from where they came in – and sometimes multiple cars arrive at once. 

‘I noticed it while I was sleeping,’ Jennifer King, a resident in Richmond District told KPIX. ‘I awoke to a strange hum and I thought there was a spacecraft outside my bedroom window.’ 

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Resident Jennifer King told KPIX that the vehicles, which are being tested in the California city, all make a multi-point turn and then just leaving from where they came in – and sometimes multiple cars arrive at once

Resident Jennifer King told KPIX that the vehicles, which are being tested in the California city, all make a multi-point turn and then just leaving from where they came in – and sometimes multiple cars arrive at once

Waymo told the news outlet that it is looking into the matter – DailyMail.com has contacted the Alphabet-owned company for more information.

Valued at $30 billion, Waymo, the autonomous driving unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, unleashed its self-driving taxi service in San Francisco to expand testing in August.  

The testing is being conducted with an ‘autonomous specialist’ seated at the wheel, who collects feedback during the ride-share trips and can take over in the event of an emergency.

Not much has been said about the ride-share testing until multiple cars began flooding the dead-end street.

The mysterious sightings are coming from the end of 15th Avenue (pictured), where up to 50 of the self-driving cars appear to be confused as they enter the area

The mysterious sightings are coming from the end of 15th Avenue (pictured), where up to 50 of the self-driving cars appear to be confused as they enter the area

Pictured is a map showing the location of the dead end street in San Francisco, California

Pictured is a map showing the location of the dead end street in San Francisco, California

King told KPIX that she and other residents have spoken with the Waymo employees seated behind the wheel with the hopes of understanding the bizarre behavior, but the employees said, ‘they’re just doing their job.’

Andrea Lewin, who also lives in the area, told KPIX this disturbance has been going on for approximately six to eight weeks and at all hours of the day.

Waymo welcome its first riders four years ago in Phoenix, Arizona and notes that since October 2020, the service has provided tens of thousands of fully autonomous rides, the company shared in an August press release.

Google began development of the self-driving technology in 2009 in the confines of its secretive X lab.  

In 2014, the tech giant shared its first prototype with the world and in 2016, Waymo was renamed, and was turned into its own separate division in Alphabet.

Since the first testing, Waymo has made several improvements to the cars – from the style to the technology inside.

The company said it has improved its ‘lidar’ computer vision system, allowing the system to spot traffic lights changing much farther ahead of vehicles.

The technology can also identify pedestrians who walk across the road without warning – ‘even when the emerge suddenly from behind a vehicle in the oncoming lane.’

The street has a sign notifying oncoming traffic that the street is a dead end

The street has a sign notifying oncoming traffic that the street is a dead end 

The testing is being conducted with an 'autonomous specialist' seated at the wheel, who collects feedback during the ride-share trips and can take over in the event of an emergency

The testing is being conducted with an ‘autonomous specialist’ seated at the wheel, who collects feedback during the ride-share trips and can take over in the event of an emergency

‘We’ve also designed our software to reason about the context, which is essential for driving safely in busy cities,’ the Waymo team shared in a statement.

‘Our perception system lets our Driver know how to handle a pedestrian, a tree – and a pedestrian carrying a Christmas tree.

‘If we pull up next to a bus by a crosswalk on Beach Street in Fisherman’s Wharf, our Driver can reason that hidden passengers may be getting off, and that they may soon cross the street.’

Waymo is among several automotive and tech firms testing autonomous driving, although no large-scale deployments have begun.

GM announced it was going to deploy its full driving cars in San Francisco last December and unleashed its concept for the robo-taxis a month later.

The firm’s Cruise Origin is the first driverless vehicle designed without pedals, an engine or steering wheel.

Origin can accommodate four passengers at a time, although a single customer will be able summon it for a ride just like with ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft.

Cruise had planned to have a robotaxi service consisting of Chevrolet Bolts working without human backup drivers by the end of 2019.

Plans were delayed last year after one of Uber’s autonomous test vehicles ran down and killed a pedestrian in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, Arizona, during 2018.


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