Waymo self-driving taxi confused by traffic cones flees help

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A Waymo self-driving car pulls into a parking lot at the Google-owned company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, on May 8, 2019.Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Waymo self-driving taxis are available in Phoenix, Arizona, only

A self-driving taxi has blocked a road in Arizona after becoming confused by a lane closed off with traffic cones.

The Waymo vehicle repeatedly drove away from roadside assistance, dispatched within minutes of the car becoming stuck.

Passenger Joel Johnson documented the experience on his YouTube channel.

The Alphabet-owned company said it was an "unusual situation" and the taxi had operated safely throughout the journey.

Waymo is the first fully self-driving taxi service legally allowed to operate.

For now, it is available in the East Valley district of Phoenix only.

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The YouTube video shows the taxi trying to turn right on to a four-lane road.

But there are several traffic cones on the right lane of the road, causing it to stop.

At this point, the remote-assistance helpline is called and a member of staff speaks to Mr Johnson through the car's system - updating him on when roadside assistance will arrive.

A few minutes later, the taxi moves into an open left lane and then repositions itself so it blocks the road entirely.

Construction workers arrive to remove the cones, giving the taxi a clear path, but it stays still for a few minutes.

Then, when roadside assistance arrives, the taxi starts driving away.

A few moments later, the taxi stops a second time - after being confronted with traffic cones again - and then drives off once more as roadside assistance approaches.

Eventually, the car is disabled and a human driver takes over the wheel.

Media caption,

These taxis will not have a human behind the wheel

Ina statement Waymo said the vehicle had "detected an unusual situation" and sought remote guidance from a specialist working for the company.

But the specialist team had provided incorrect guidance, the taxi had been unable to complete the trip and roadside assistance had had to step in.

“While the situation was not ideal, the Waymo Driver operated the vehicle safely until roadside assistance arrived," the company said.

“Throughout, Waymo’s team was in touch with the rider, who provided thoughtful and helpful feedback that allows us to continue learning and improving the Waymo Driver.

“Our team has already assessed the event and improved our operational process.”

'Occasional mistake'

Mr Johnson regularly posts videos about his experience in Waymo taxis and defended the technology.

"I'm just being honest with what I see," he tweeted.

"How can I prove the technology is great, if I hide it when the occasional mistake happens?

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

"This Waymo performance with cones is the exception to the rule.

“People are ignoring my other 53 videos where it works just fine."