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Driverless Waymo car almost digs itself into hole—literally

Waymo received regulatory approval to operate a driverless taxi pilot in California and plans to roll out service in San Francisco. | Courtesy Waymo

A driverless Waymo vehicle nearly drove itself right into a trench at a San Francisco construction site, an Instagram video posted Friday shows.

“A self-driving vehicle drives into a construction site and stops right before rolling into an open trench,” wrote Insta user freddiefuture. “It’s my first sighting of an autonomous vehicle in the city, with no one in it.”

After encountering the obstacle, the car seemed to be flummoxed as to what to do next. As freddiefuture notes, Waymo “still has waymo to learn.”

“We navigate around active construction zones day and night. If our autonomous driving system—the Waymo Driver—is not sure of the semantics, it may pull over or come to a stop if it’s assessed to be the safest course of action in that instance,” Waymo said in an emailed statement about the incident.

“Our autonomous driving system brought the vehicle to a safe stop and alerted the Waymo assistance team of the issue. We responded immediately and resolved the issue within a few minutes.”

The incident is yet another example of driverless technology gone rogue.

In April, a driverless Cruise car appeared to briefly go on the lam from police in a video that went viral. The vehicle was pulled over by police officers in the Richmond for failing to have its headlights on at night, and proceeded to take off after it was stopped, finally coming to a halt on the next block.

In October, there were numerous reports of a dead-end street in the Richmond where Waymo cars were piling up.

San Francisco is the epicenter of autonomous vehicle testing—of the nearly 140 driverless vehicle collisions reported to the California DMV as of early December 2022, the overwhelming majority of crashes occurred in the city.

Amid increasing safety and traffic concerns around the growing presence of autonomous vehicles on Bay Area streets, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution last month that calls on regulators to address these issues and established an official city policy regarding driverless cars.

On the lighter side of things, in early December, a couple of intrepid San Francisco Standard reporters took a ride in a driverless taxi run by Cruise, a Waymo competitor. Hilarity ensued—and was caught on video—as the two ended up having to chase the car down the block.

This latest incident demonstrates just how much more driverless technology needs to learn—clearly, “waymo.”