Waymo Peforms Embarrassingly In Construction Cone Situation


A recently released video shows Waymo having some real problems when it encounters a construction zone it doesn't understand (that's expected) but then the remote ops team gives the wrong instructions and a comedy of errors follows. I discuss it here:

Waymo Peforms Embarrassingly In Construction Cone Situation


Brad, You write that "it does this twice just as the rescue driver has arrived and is preparing to enter the car. At the end, when the rescue driver is about to enter the car, a signal comes which freezes the car and unlocks the door, but until that signal the car is still free to run away, and does so twice." But I never see the rescue driver arrive (it just says so on the screen). When did you see a rescue driver? Erik

You hear JJ speak about it, and you he points out the rescue car driving by in the opposite lane at one point, presumably to be there as soon as they can U-turn. Of course you finally see him for real at the 3rd try.

You can also see the safety car's flashing lights reflecting off the interior (e.g. safety shield) of the Waymo van in a couple cases.

This is what happens when you rely too heavily on maps.

The car fully understood the geometry of the road, and the location of every cone. It's not clear what it would have done better if it did not rely on maps.

What Waymo says is that it failed because the remote operator made a mistake, and the car relies very strongly on what its remote overlord has told it to do, and when it can't do it because of what it sees in the world, it gets confused.

I remain curious just what the remote operator told it.

If the car did not rely on maps to tell it which lanes to drive in, the programmers would have to write software to allow the car to figure that out on its own.

The problem with relying on maps as heavily as waymo does is that they inevitably become out of date. This is what happened here, and the results were pretty bad.

It was also incredibly predictable. Construction zones are probably the very first problem with relying on maps that comes to mind when someone suggests taking the shortcut of relying on HD maps.

Ditto with relying on remote operators, but mistakes from them are hopefully more rare than out-of-date maps (if you're working with too many cars per human, mistakes won't be rare).

Yes, maps get out of date. It's actually quite rare that you are the first car to encounter it, but it does happen, so any system has to plan for this and handle it well. That is not the same as just saying "it must drive without a map." Or rather, it's not the same as saying, "It should not just drive without a map all the time" when it will only be without a map for one mile in a million. It must not behave very badly when the map is wrong, but it's OK if it gets a bit confused. Again, this is a one in a million thing. (Construction zones you see every day, but you are only the first car ever to see a surprise zone that wasn't logged by the city before starting one time in a million if things are done right.)

But in this case, it's not what happened. The map was correct. There were cones added, which the car saw and placed correctly. It knew it didn't understand the cones, and then it asked for advice, and got the wrong orders, or so Waymo says.

Mistake #3 — Inability to use the licensed driver

Yeah. I really wish they'd just let humans take the wheel when necessary. In addition to letting people get out of these sorts of situations, it'd allow them to take the car outside the geofence.

Some services have been proposed of that sort, but I don't think Waymo plans one. The vehicle is too expensive for now to let people it for trips outside the service area, though it could let them do short trips outside for a fee.

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