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Waymo had to rescue an autonomous van that was confused by security cones

It is difficult to program a computer to understand and navigate the roads designed for human drivers. Just ask Elon Musk. Rarely, however, do we see only how many things can go wrong when an autonomous vehicle encounters a situation it does not know how to deal with. A 35 minute video by Joel Johnson (via Autoblog), a YouTuber who shares clips of his travels with Waymo One in Arizona, offers a rare vision in a perfect storm of errors.

About 12 minutes after the video, Johnson’s car wants to turn right onto a multi-lane road. Unfortunately for Waymo Driver, the far right track was closed, with construction cones marking the obstruction. After the car stall, unsure of what to do next, a Waymo representative contacted Johnson to tell him that Roadside Assistance is on track. Before getting help, the car moves suddenly to complete the turn, only to stop between the roads. Then it aggravates the situation by holding a few meters. “Now it’s blocking the whole track instead of half,” Johnson says dryly of development.

At this point in the video, a construction worker in a flatbed truck comes to collect the cones that had confused Waymo Driver. As soon as support arrives, the car jumps out of the situation just to meet more cones and send another call for help. Before a human driver can finally board the car and drive Johnson to his destination, Waymo Driver tries to launch it again.

Waymo says employees can’t remotely control a car. However, they can only offer Waymo Driver tips for how to navigate in a complicated situation. After encountering an “unusual situation” (construction cones) and asking for help from a remote specialist, the company says, “the Fleet Response team provided the wrong guidance.” That’s what led to the situation growing in its way.

“While the situation was not ideal, Driver Waymo operated the vehicle safely until the arrival of Roadside Assistance,” the company said in a statement to Johnson. “Overall, the Waymo team has been in touch with the pilot, who has provided thoughtful and helpful feedback that will allow us to continue to learn and improve the Waymo Driver.” If there’s one silver lining to the episode, it’s that Johnson got a free ride (and a funny video) from him. Meanwhile Waymo says he has already studied what has happened to improve “our operational process.”

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