By on May 5, 2018

Tempe, Arizona, that sunny hotbed of autonomous vehicle testing, made headlines earlier this year after a driverless Volvo XC90 operated by Uber Technologies struck and killed a woman crossing a darkened street. The “driverless” vehicle, which had a (distracted) Uber employee behind the wheel, apparently didn’t see the victim. Uber suspended testing after the incident.

Now, Tempe’s making headlines again. A Waymo-operated Chrysler Pacifica found itself the victim of a collision on Friday afternoon, but it’s the behaviour of another Waymo minivan — caught on video by another motorist — that’s generating the most interest today.

First, let’s get that collision out of the way. According to ABC15, a Honda Civic travelling eastbound on Chandler Boulevard in Chandler, Arizona (a few miles southeast of Tempe) swerved hard left to avoid a vehicle that darted out in front of it from a side street. Given the Civic’s speed and the fact its rear end slid out, the sedan carried on over the median and into the westbound lanes, striking the oncoming Waymo vehicle.

Waymo quickly released a video proving that its minivan was merely an innocent bystander in all of this. Given the way the accident unfolded, it’s unlikely a human driver could have done anything to prevent the collision. Sometimes, you’re just out of luck. Moving on…

Five days before that Waymo mishap, a much more benign incident occurred involving a Waymo vehicle. This time, however, it’s a failure that only results in frustration for the occupant(s), and maybe a little lost time.

What we have here is a situation faced regularly by almost all drivers: a difficult merging situation after coming off an on-ramp. If merging onto a freeway is part of your daily commute, jockeying for an opening is hard-wired into your brain. You’re already eyeballing traffic as you come down the ramp, ready to pounce when the moment’s right.

We see the Waymo Pacifica follow all the rules in this video, but the problem lies in the fact that it’s sharing road space with human drivers. Immediately after the solid white line gives way to a broken one, the turn signal comes on. Unfortunately, a minivan-sized gap immediately adjacent to the Waymo vehicle quickly turns complicated. The following vehicle moves right, into the same lane as the Waymo, just as the preceding vehicle brakes. A (very) brief opportunity missed.

Not to worry, however, as a much friendlier gap opens up further ahead. With its blinker still on, the Waymo vehicle passes the Nissan Pathfinder that braked, then a GMC Acadia, positioning itself next to the gap. There’s still a broken white line. For some reason, though, the Waymo vehicle doesn’t take the bait. By the time it reappears from behind the Acadia’s generously sized ass, the lane marker has turned solid again, and the Pacifica’s turn signal is nowhere to be seen. It ends up exiting the freeway via the lane on which it entered.

On board Waymo’s Pacificas are a diverse array of sensors — more diverse than on Uber’s driverless cars. Three LIDAR sensors map shapes and measure distances, while eight vision modules, combined with radar, give the vehicle a good sense of what’s happening around it. At the present time, Waymo’s setup is viewed as the best.

And yet, somehow this vehicle couldn’t merge. You have to wonder if ride-hailing passengers would pay more for this detour. It’s assumed the Waymo vehicle is exercising the utmost caution here, failing to make the lane change due to the presence of a rapidly approaching solid white line (something a human driver would completely ignore). Still, the video illustrates one of the drawbacks of mixing a perfectly mannered vehicle into a fluid, unpredictable environment where people drive like, well, people.

No driverless car is going to “force” a gap. Had there been a human controlling the wheel, however, that Waymo would be on the freeway out of Tempe.

[Image: Waymo]

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37 Comments on “Thwarted on the On-ramp: Waymo Driverless Car Doesn’t Feel the Urge to Merge...”


  • avatar
    jalop1991

    Looks like the average third-world texting passenger behind the wheel that I see every day, apparently seeing a freeway merge for the first time all over again.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • avatar

    This technology is NOT ready for prime time.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      You mean cars? Putting average people in control of 60mph 5000lb hurtling steel?

      Agreed.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      So, yesterday, I’m driving up the highway, about 8:30 in the morning. It’s reasonably empty, I’m doing about 75 in the right lane. Coming up to an interchange, I see a Nissan Rogue on the onramp, but at the speed it’s going, I can tell it’s not going to need me to get out of the way (or so I thought). The moment that Rogue hit the dashed line, the driver didn’t check her mirrors, didn’t signal, just started merging over (this, of course, is the exact time I’m passing her).

      Too many humans aren’t ready for prime time either, but we still give them licenses.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        I had a similar one last week. I was in the right lane of a frontage road and a car pulled out ahead of me from a stop sign on my right, into the left lane going my direction so they had to cross my lane to get there. As I got along side they decided to merge back to the right lane where I was. Why do they pull out to the opposite lane only to come back 1/8 mile later? I know, rhetorical.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          When someone does this, I get them back with some passive-aggressive/play dumb driving and block their way back into the lane. I might make the passive-aggressive not very passive, so it’s obvious that I’m getting them back. Best is when I get honked at. I know they’re too dumb to realize their own mistake thirty seconds ago by running a stop sign or by pointlessly getting into a lane that is clearly about to end. I don’t think of it as road rage or remediation for their own driving shortcomings. Rather, it’s petty revenge, plain and simple. Road revenge!! It makes me feel better as a person and sometimes my feeling of smug revenge can really make my day.

          I encourage you to try it out.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I’ve tried to merge onto freeways, and have drivers pulled up to my side, sometimes in my blind spot, and keep me from merging. They look straight ahead like I’m not even there. So I brake and pull in behind them, then out of frustration, pull into the passing lane and blow by them. Then again my Mom didn’t like to drive, and she was one of those that came to halt before merging. I haven’t seen that in a long time. My point is you never know what’s going on while driving, the best you can do is leave plenty of room around you to escape from any situation. Are these computers thinking like this? That anything could happen at a moments notice and you need to be able to deal with it.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Driverless cars won’t work until ALL cars are driverless.

    Stupid humans.

    • 0 avatar
      vehic1

      The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good. If that many more drunks and 87-year-old drivers, etc. are taken off the road, it would be worth some comparatively minor glitches. AI cars won’t be drag-racing on the streets, running from the cops, hoisting a few too many, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        jalop1991

        “The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good. If that many more drunks and 87-year-old drivers, etc. are taken off the road, it would be worth the deaths of innocent people walking their bikes across the street.”

        There, fixed that for you.

        • 0 avatar
          carguy67

          I recently started riding a bike again after a many years’ hiatus. I remembered my own advice from many years ago: Don’t push your luck, and the car always wins. The lady who was killed jaywalking her bike on a a dark expressway late at night was definitely pushing her luck and, as is apparent, a self-driving car couldn’t save her and she was hardly ‘innocent.’ Anybody heard of a toxicology report for the ‘victim?’

  • avatar
    walleyeman57

    Is it possible that the waymo car wanted to exit at the first ramp?iknow it had its signal on to merge but maybe it thought it had to merge before exiting.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      It forgot its wallet and was going back home

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Yeah, as much as I’d like to jump on the bandwagon, I’m not sure that video shows anything at all.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        As a human driver, I’ve had a couple of failed merge.

        Looking for a gap and managing your speed has limits, and I’ve faced those limits 2-3 times in several hundred thousand miles of seat time. It’s a corner case, but it’s a real sphincter clencher when you face it.

        As a result, I’m always prepared to be forced onto the shoulder (or making a wrong turn)

        Doing so is less dangerous and more graceful than a lot of alternatives.

        Seeing the machine do what it’s taken me 20 years and a few scares to learn — well, that strikes me as just fine.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Looks like Waymo AI has its driver assertiveness level dialed down to “wuss.”

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      That’s the only level these cars will ever have – for liability reasons. The lawyers will never approve the AI thinking “F-off, human I’m merging in!”

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        Minivan dad here.

        I drive like “a wuss”, but not because my.van is slow (it’s not), or because I’m slow (I have many fast miles under my belt).

        At a little under 3/10ths, the Cheerios start flying out of the cupholders, and my progeny starts using the bad words I taught them!

    • 0 avatar
      Occam

      It really looks like a bunch of AI cars would make life easier for human drivers merging.

      Need to cut in? Just look for the AI car and force your way in. I mean, it’s basically what people do already, except without the testosterone-fueled game of oblique-angled chicken.

  • avatar
    Carfan94

    Ehh, Stupid autonomous van…. Anyway, the real crime here is the video is recorded in portrait mode!

  • avatar
    James2

    I see all too many morons who do know how to merge onto the freeway… at around 10 mph slower than the prevailing traffic.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      +1 not sure why people can’t accelerate properly. I normally go faster then traffic to slot in.

    • 0 avatar
      redrum

      This is my biggest gripe with merging. Years ago I frequently took a freeway on-ramp that had an unusually generous merge lane (probably a good half mile before you even got to the dotted white line). Even the slowest cars could get up to the speed limit before needing to merge. That’s good, right? But instead what I’d see on a daily basis is people getting up to 40-45mph and then coasting, causing several cars to back up behind them, and then all of a sudden you had a block of 3-4 cars trying to merge at the same time still only going 40-45mph (the offending driver only accelerating to 60+ once they were fully merged). Total mess, all caused by one person at the front who apparently never learned in Driver’s Ed that an on-ramp straightaway IS the freeway.

      • 0 avatar
        GiddyHitch

        1000 times this, redrum. Most drivers I see maintain street speeds on the on-ramp and only begin accelerating when they’re practically on top of the highway traffic and furthermore, are seemingly petrified of breaking 3000rpm.

  • avatar

    The problem is Waymo are using Chrysler minivans, which are the punchbag of the automotive world and no-one is likely to make space for them.

    If Waymo were using BMW SUVs then other traffic would automatically assume the car was going to barge in at 10mph over the limit without any indication and they would subconsciously form a gap and brace for impact.

  • avatar
    vehic1

    Thank goodness there are some who warn us of the HORRORS of this newfangled technology! We’re SO much safer with that many more human drivers weaving in and out of lanes, tailgating, applying makeup, quenching their thirst, texting, road-raging, etc. than we’d be with some soulless, godless globalistic computer driving us to that there New World Order! And Ee-leck-Tricity, too – if God wanted that, he wouldn’t have put gas tanks on vehicles!

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      **** safety, there are already too many talking apes on this rock and a few less is not a bad thing.

      This is about control, nothing more. But to those of us above the 80 IQ threshold this was readily apparent.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I’m not going to freely give up manual control of a vehicle to better accommodate criminals and reckless drivers.

  • avatar
    vvk

    > presence of a rapidly approaching solid white line (something a human driver would completely ignore)

    Speak for yourself. I would never ignore a solid white line. I would also easily make this merge.

  • avatar
    Hydromatic

    The only way this is ever going to work is if autonomous vehicles have their own dedicated lanes and those lanes eventually squeeze out the lanes used for human-driven cars (which, coincidentally, are also being phased out).

    • 0 avatar
      Rasputin

      And people thought “The Terminator” was science fiction.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Bingo!

      The important point for people, is to not give up their meatsack lanes until they are voluntarily left virtually empty, on account of travel in the robolanes being obviously superior in every way.

      Our overlords will want to encroach long, long before that. Since, in a financialized dystopia such as ours, banning people from doing what makes sense to them, in order to favor what makes sense for “investors,” is how the leeches maintain and entrench their status. So as long as people believe the drivel their favorite man on tv indoctrinator will be spouting louder and louder as time goes on, they’ll end up being squeezed out of their lanes long before they can afford an equally good experience in a robocar.

      Over time, robocars in dedicated lanes will get better than humans from and to virtually any point A and B. But the only way to make sure this is so, is to follow the Hippocratic: First, do no harm! Which us this instance resolves to: First, do nothing that reduces the utility of the existing infrastructure. Instead, simply, in parallel, build something sufficiently obviously better to make everyone abandon the old stuff for the new. Voluntarily, as befits free people.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    What will one these things do when it encounters a driver going across three lanes in front it, to hit an exit? Explode?

  • avatar
    Rasputin

    What began as a courtesy between truckers has “evolved” (progressed? /s) into what many people believe is the law. Cars on entrance ramps assume that vehicles in the right lane will move left for them. Always. I have observed many near accidents. On I-81 in VA, a two-lane major truck route, cars will pick up speed on the ramps assuming the semi in the right lane will move over. But there is a car, unseen by the entering car, that prevents the truck from moving left. Eventually the entering car must come to a stop. I have seen many smoking lockups and twice seen cars hit the start of the guard rail and twice run up the embankment to avoid the rail.


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