Autonomous driving continues to be the next big thing, but it’s proving harder than expected to get it right. Waymo announced plans to launch its driverless taxi service by the end of the year in the U.S. followed by a launch in Europe, but the vehicles are having trouble with some rather basic driving skills.
According to The Information, the fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans currently testing in Arizona aren’t quite getting it right. It’s not the tricky stuff that throws them, but the more basic stuff humans master fairly quickly.
According to unnamed sources, the vehicles have trouble merging into heavy traffic like you’d find on a typical highway at rush hour. They’re also challenged by unprotected left turns, which is when you have to make a left across traffic when there’s no signal. Even the metered red and green lights that tell you when it’s your turn to get onto the highway have proved problematic.
While these are the kinds of things that can be challenging for human drivers – who doesn’t cringe at the though of an unprotected let in heavy traffic – we still figure it out and get it right most of the time. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to wait for an extra car or two whether you’re a human driver or an autonomous vehicle, but sit there too long and the line of cars patiently waiting behind you gets quite impatient.
It’s the kind of thing that makes those other drivers start yelling at you through the windshield, possibly throwing a few choice gestures in your direction. The Waymo might not care, but the road rage building in those human drivers is a problem. Local Arizona residents who have been dealing with these things on the road for months expressed exactly that sentiment.
The same situation occurs with Waymos at stop signs. Most humans stop only long enough to check for oncoming traffic and then immediately continue. According to The Information, Waymo’s vehicles stop for a minimum of three seconds. Count off three seconds the next time you’re at a stop sign and you’ll find it’s longer than you think.
Now, it’s worth noting that we’d all rather have a driverless car that merges, turns, and stops cautiously rather than one that drives around like it’s auditioning for a Fast and Furious movie. But stopping for too long or driving too tentatively causes it’s own set of problems by confusing and frustrating human drivers.
There’s a sweet spot in the middle and it’s one Waymo needs to find if its plan for fleets of driverless taxis can succeed.