Waymo just recently launched its robotaxi service in San Francisco. Before this launch, Waymo robotaxis have just been in commercial service in the Phoenix area. We highlighted one odd scenario several months back, but in doing so, we basically fell victim to a time-old media problem — covering something because it’s odd/unusual while ignoring or hardly mentioning what’s normal and boring. Under the article about the San Francisco news, a reader commented, “J J Ricks has a youtube channel which is quite interesting as he posts his rides with waymo. Unfortunately for him, the rides are super smooth most of the time, like filming an ordinary taxi ride, quite boring in fact. The way those waymo cars drive, I couldn’t really tell there was a computer driving, not a human, confident and accurate, no hesitation, no wheel twitching.” All good points.
After a short chat about that one odd case we covered, another commenter stated, “This case is the only real fail and it got over hyped. That can occur. Apart from that he has dozens of videos that are impressive. In his videos, he often intentionally tested things that the cars didn’t do well in the past and there were real improvements. He was doing more and more ‘boring’ videos, where nothing really happened because the car did it all perfectly, this is a sign the system became really mature. Finally a few weeks ago he stopped his videos. It seems he has something important in his life [that] prevents him [from doing] more videos.”
Nudged by these readers, I finally got to viewing more content from JJRicks Studios. Well, I watched his 30-minute video of his last ride. The shortest version of the story is that it was quite boring, because the Waymo robotaxi basically just drove the way it should, the way a human would, and got JJ and his grandma to their destination. That said, for those paying close attention to the nuance of self-driving vehicles, there were also some interesting parts that JJ highlighted well. Here’s the video:
One of the things that stood out to me was the Waymo robotaxi making unprotected left turns super smoothly and safely. If you checked out my piece the other day about Tesla FSD v9.2, you know that unprotected left turns are still one of the more challenging tasks for Teslas with the latest FSD software. Well, if you are an experienced driver (or perhaps even an inexperienced driver), then you know that unprotected left turns are dangerous and challenging. I almost always avoid taking unprotected left turns — they just aren’t worth the risk when there are typically simple other ways to go. Well, Waymos seem fine with them. However, JJ highlights one spot where the robotaxi’s approach/entry to a turn can be very stressful when you aren’t used to it, and it’s a funny case because Chuck Cook’s FSD Beta Model 3 acted similarly at a similar turn and spooked out an oncoming driver. Apparently, the safest way to go into a spot between medians to pause and then turn left from is also a scary way that can frighten a passenger or the driver of an oncoming vehicle. I presume Waymo and Tesla will continuous improve behavior in scenarios like this, though.
Other notables from the video:
- The Waymo robotaxi behaves very sensibly/cautiously when a car next to it is changing lanes and then turning.
- The Waymo robotaxi handles a four-way stop with an obstructed view of the stop sign perfectly.
- The Waymo robotaxi handles an unprotected right turn perfectly.
- The vehicle visualizes a police car on the screen as it passed it.
- The vehicle proceeds well through a yellow light.
- The vehicle slows down for a bird that goes in front of it.
Overall, to repeat, the Waymo robotaxis are so good at what they do that they are basically boring — or can be. On the other hand, if you are really into watching all the little things about how the robotaxis perform and how their visualizations show for passengers (as I am), it can be super exciting. For more on all of that, JJ has many more videos on his YouTube channel. Here are a few relatively recent ones:
What we don’t have is a look at how much these robotaxis cost (initial purchase price as well as operational costs). However, we can conclude that if Waymo ever is able to offer its robotaxi services at a financially rewarding level, it will do so in many more cities in the US and around the world.
Overall, what’s exciting is simply that vehicles can drive themselves in complicated settings and take passengers from door to door, and that the tech that allows this will continuously get better!