Waymo has been testing its self-driving cars in San Francisco for the last decade. But an apparent change to the vehicles’ routing has caused many of them to make a beeline for a dead-end street in a quiet part of San Francisco, causing residents there to wonder what on earth is going on.
A recent CBS report visited the street — 15th Avenue north of Lake Street in Richmond — to see if it could work out why so many of Waymo’s autonomous cars are showing up, turning around, and then driving right out again.
You see, it’s not just the occasional Waymo car that’s making an appearance. One resident said that as many as 50 of the self-driving vehicles can show up in the space of a single day, rumbling along the road “literally every five minutes.” When the CBS crew was on site, it saw several Waymo cars turning up at the same time, causing the autonomous vehicles to wait in line while each one performed a multi-point turn before driving out the same way it came in.
Some folks in the local area have even approached the cars’ human safety drivers to ask why the vehicles have taken a liking to this particular street.
But the drivers don’t seem to know, telling the puzzled locals that the car appears to be programmed that way, and that as a safety driver they’re just doing their job by sitting behind the wheel and going where the car takes them.
Even Elon Musk, chief of electric-car company Tesla whose vehicles include a number of driver-assist features, tweeted a response to the bizarre situation, saying simply: “Haha.”
A Waymo spokesperson told the BBC that its vehicles occasionally make a detour in response to the presence of one of the city’s so-called “slow streets”, which are designed to reduce traffic in some residential areas, adding: “The Waymo driver was obeying the same road rules that any car is required to follow.”
But it still seems odd that, despite San Francisco’s large size and abundance of streets, so many Waymo vehicles are continuing to trundle into this particular dead-end street.
“Definitely they’re exploring something on this little piece of land,” one bemused resident said.