There’s a game I play every morning called, “Where the hell is my Roomba?” There’s a good chance our aptly-named Mark Suckerberg didn’t make it back to its Roomba port, at which point the hunt is on. Did it get stuck on the rug again? Is it under the couch? Is it still bumbling aimlessly, trying to figure out how to get out of a corner? That’s what’s going on with Waymo’s autonomous cars in San Francisco.
The poor folks living in the 15th Avenue Richmond District street area of San Francisco have noticed what they call an “explosion” of Waymo cars plaguing the neighborhood.
“I noticed it while I was sleeping. I awoke to a strange hum and I thought there was a spacecraft outside my bedroom window,” resident Jennifer King told CBS. “There are some days where it can be up to 50. It’s literally every five minutes. And we’re all working from home, so this is what we hear.”
Can you imagine 50 cars traversing a road that was only ever used by the local residents? According to those in the neighborhood, the cars seem “baffled” by the fact that this particular road is a dead-end street with no outlet. It takes the cars ages to figure out how to maneuver the three-point turn necessary to turn around and get back out to more open roads, and it happens at all hours of the day — and the night.
“Not long after [one] car is gone, there will be another which will make the same turn and leave, before another car shows up and does the exact same thing,” King explained. But the cars do occasionally stack up, with a line of cars all waiting to figure out how to navigate a turnaround.
It’s a big frustration for local residents who, y’know, would still like to use that road for things like picking up groceries or taking the kids to school.
When Waymo sends cars like these out into the world, it does keep a safety driver behind the wheel in the event of an emergency, and residents have tried to ask that driver what’s going on — but the drivers don’t really have much to tell them. Residents have started to assume that this turnaround is just part of some pre-programmed route, and the safety drivers are letting the cars figure things out on their own.
Waymo, for its own part, hasn’t exactly expanded much on things, either. When told about the issue, it thanked the neighbors for bringing it to the company’s attention but didn’t share much else.
Of course, it’s important for an autonomous car to learn how to navigate real-world situations, so running cars through a particular dead-end street that seems to perplex the technology is smart — but sending dozens of cars out every day for months on end with no perceptible improvement in the cars’ ability to navigate the turn doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the technology or the company.