And yet if the goal is to make an autonomous driving system that can transport people from doorstep to doorstep via roads that are also open to human drivers and pedestrian, Waymo isn’t close. Five billion miles in simulation is just table stakes. Engineers can only simulate what they can predict. H
I imagine that you’re expecting me to make a joke about irrational Boston drivers after that line. Oh, sweetie. Honey. No. It’s true that our moves are mostly dictated by Brownian motion but that’s not the real problem. To truly gape into the maw of madness, you need to look at our network of roads. Most of them were initially laid out by either
But that’s not
The Arizona Republic has been reporting on open hostility and road rage against Waymo cars:
A Waymo self-driving van cruised through a Chandler neighborhood Aug. 1 when test driver Michael Palos saw something startling as he sat behind the wheel — a bearded man in shorts aiming a handgun at him as he passed the man’s driveway.
The incident is one of at least 21 interactions documented by Chandler police during the past two years where people have harassed the autonomous vehicles and their human test drivers.
People have thrown rocks at Waymos. The tire on one was slashed while it was stopped in traffic. The vehicles have been yelled at, chased and one Jeep was responsible for forcing the vans off roads six times.
And from The New York Times:
“There are other places they can test,” said Erik O’Polka, 37, who was issued a warning by the police in November after multiple reports that his Jeep Wrangler had tried to run Waymo vans off the road — in one case, driving head-on toward one of the self-driving vehicles until it was forced to come to an abrupt stop.
His wife, Elizabeth, 35, admitted in an interview that her husband “finds it entertaining to brake hard” in front of the self-driving vans, and that she herself “may have forced them to pull over” so she could yell at them to get out of their neighborhood. The trouble started, the couple said, when their 10-year-old son was nearly hit by one of the vehicles while he was playing in a nearby cul-de-sac.
“They said they need real-world examples, but I don’t want to be their real-world mistake,” said Mr. O’Polka, who runs his own company providing information technology to small businesses.
There can be no rational reason to attack any vehicle that’s carrying people (remember that these Waymo vans are often carrying passengers and there’s always a
[Edited: a reader points out
But that doesn’t dismiss concerns about safety. A car that can be equipped with enough sensors to navigate a road and react to what’s going on can also be equipped with sensors that detect that a safety driver isn’t actually watching the road. So why was this kind of accident even possible?
The software can also be very, very annoying for
But hey, these are all “experimental technology” problems. Put enough miles on the odometer and they’ll all get solved.
I’m more interested in the dangers created by human behavior. We’re all bound together by a mutually-supportive social contract. And s
I’m walking on the sidewalk and I nearly bump into another pedestrian. Invariably, we both apologize without even thinking about who might have been at fault. Why? Because it’s impossible not to identify that
Whereas when you trip over a curbstone you can yell at it all you want. Curbstones have zero empathy. This means that you can’t possibly hurt its feelings. It’s also why they can keep right on tripping people day after day without feeling any remorse.
Drivers who are prone to road rage might understand intellectually that the car that just cut them off (or is merely heeding a “No Turn On Red” traffic sign) contains a human being. But emotionally? Naw. It’s a car. Yell all you want and blow your horn! Maybe even scare ’em! Why not?
I mean, there are even psychos who throw big rocks off of highway overpasses. Yet dropping big rocks onto busy pedestrian thoroughfares doesn’t seem to be a widespread thing. Those with plenty of faith in humanity would say that it’s because identifying with the potential victims is unavoidable. The cynics would say that getting identified would be unavoidable. Either way, people don’t do it.
So I wonder. Will road-ragers be even angrier and more aggressive against driverless vehicles? Brake-checking a Waymo or even forcing one off the road might seem like kicking a Coke machine, despite the obvious consequences for other people.
I can’t relate to that kind of thinking. Even when I owned a car, I never felt any road rage. How about a different form of this same question: can a drive be expected to show a driverless car the same courtesy as one piloted by a human?
Again, it’s a question of empathy. I know how much it
As always, we can’t predict how a new technology is going to shape society and human behavior until it’s out there. For example, I’m gradually getting used to sending this kind of text to a friend
My ETA at the restaurant is
6:30. I can't WAIT to see
you! I've missed you so much
since you moved.
And getting this back
I can now interpret this as “The response was curt because s/he read this on a smartwatch. ‘Yup’ was one of the two or three canned replies the watch offered to send.” Whereas I once might have interpreted it as “Andy, you’re one of the reasons why I moved away. I only accepted your dinner invitation so I can see the look on your face when I explain it to you without omitting a single detail.”
Let’s get back to Waymo’s problem.
Self-driving car technology will need to deal with the problems caused by human road rage against driverless vehicles. Naturally, I have a brilliant solution:
I’ll explain. When a fight breaks out during a pro hockey game, it’s not usually a case of two random players losing their tempers and throwing down. No. Some players are recruited into the NHL from the minors because they’re great enforcers, not because they’re great players.
“Ice Guardians” is a fine documentary about the history and role of hockey enforcers. It’s on Netflix.
The Enforcer (“goon” is impolite) is part of the game. Today’s players are so well armored that it’s tactically worthwhile for a defenseman to take a
Waymo’s fleet should contain Goon Cars. These cars are never occupied by human beings and they’re painted in a livery that’s impossible to overlook or to mistake for anything else. My suggestion: a checkerboard paint scheme incorporating alternating colors of “spray-on body primer” and “engine coolant pooled on asphalt.”
If a Waymo car is getting roughed up out there, it’ll transmit the offending car’s license plate and visual
The Goon Cars won’t receive the usual top layer of gloss coat. An Impala carrying the paint smears of a Waymo Goon’s signature colors will continue to caution other drivers long after the actual incident, just as the panic scent of an actual impala being torn apart by leopards warns the rest of the pack to maybe…you know, just chill.
It sounds like an extreme response, but really, once these Waymo Goon Cars have established their reputation, the highways will be safer for everybody.
The mere presence of Tony Twist or Damian Strohmeyer on the ice encouraged a more civilized level of gameplay. Similarly, the sight of a Waymo van with its front-mounted bully-bar, completely blacked-out windows, and signature checkerboard paint scheme (alternating the colors of spray-on body primer and engine coolant puddling on asphalt) will prompt every driver to ask themselves an important question:
“Yes, I could. But are the consequences worth it?”
In return for this innovation, I expect nothing but a reasonable per-vehicle licensing fee and the plaudits of a grateful nation.