Autonomous Van Stumped by Traffic Cones

A human operator had to come to rescue after the Waymo vehicle encountered a construction zone.

In the past year, there have been several developments in truly driverless taxi services β€” and some tech companies can now boast programs where no humans are available to take over the wheel.

While these global rollouts are generally small in scale, they preview a future where more and more vehicles out there will be calling all the shots.

But a recent story about one of Waymo’s autonomous vans is a good reminder that, in some cases, the technology still has some gaps. Engadget called the situation β€œa perfect storm of errors,” and detailed a recent Autoblog report in which an Arizona rider captured a trip with a Waymo One driverless van where the vehicle became quite flummoxed by some traffic cones.

The problems started when the Waymo One van turned right and the lane it intended to use was blocked by construction cones. The vehicle reportedly called for help, and Roadside Assistance pledged to send someone immediately β€” though not before the van began trying to correct its position, ultimately making it worse and blocking an entire lane of traffic. When a construction worker began to move the cones, the Waymo van tried again to navigate the situation before meeting more cones and sending another distress call.

When Roadside Assistance β€” a.k.a. an actual human β€” arrived, the vehicle apparently tried to dart away once more before the driver could board.

According to Engadget, Waymo claims it can not remotely drive these vehicles; rather, its support team is able to provide suggestions that help the computer navigate the situation which, they acknowledged in this case, was β€œtricky.” They also relied on the rider to provide observational information while they tried to sort out the problem.

In the end, they told customer Joel Johnson, who happened to record the entire 35 minute ordeal and post it to his YouTube channel, that, "While the situation was not ideal, the Waymo Driver operated the vehicle safely until Roadside Assistance arrived.” Johnson also received a free ride β€” and some 160,000 views.

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