A self-driving taxi went rogue, blocking traffic and evading officials, as a YouTuber captured it on video from the backseat

·3 min read
A self-driving taxi went rogue, blocking traffic and evading officials, as a YouTuber captured it on video from the backseat
A Waymo self-driving car is seen during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/ Stephen Lam
A Waymo self-driving car is seen during the annual Google I/O developers conference in Mountain View, California Thomson Reuters
  • A self-driving car went rogue in Arizona, stalling, then speeding off before assistance could arrive.

  • A YouTuber caught the nearly 20-minute episode on video from the backseat of the car.

  • Waymo issued a statement that it has assessed the event and used it to improve future rides.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

A Waymo self-driving taxi went rogue in Arizona this week, blocking traffic and evading roadside assistance.

Joel Johnson, a YouTuber that calls himself JJRicks Studios, captured the incident on camera from the backseat.

The Alphabet company has been testing its autonomous vehicles in the Phoenix area since 2017 and the YouTuber has been recording Waymo rides for over two years. The company offers ride-hailing services with a safety driver on board, as well as rides without human backup in a 50 square-mile service area.

About 12 minutes into the ride, the car attempted to turn into a lane that had been blocked off with construction cones. Mid-turn it stopped and the rider called an online tech for help.

The online tech instructed Johnson to stay inside the vehicle and keep his seatbelt on, in case the car started up again.

She attempted to call a roadside assistance car, which she explained patrol the self-driving zones, but before roadside assistance could get there the car sped off only to stop in the middle of the road, forcing the cars behind it to go into oncoming traffic in order to pass the vehicle. The situation elicited several beeps, as well as a visit from a nearby construction worker, but the vehicle was unable to be moved until roadside assistance arrived.

The car attempted to drive away two more times, before roadside assistance caught up with the vehicle and put the car in manual driving mode. The online tech apologized for the inconvenience and waived charges for the ride.

"I do this expecting something to happen every once in a while," Johnson told the online service tech.

The video also showed the car performing several unprotected turns - a practice that can be dangerous for self-driving cars as it requires the computer to gauge oncoming traffic and pedestrians crossing the road on its own without a green arrow to guide it.

Following the incident, Waymo issued an official statement.

"While driving fully autonomously through an extended work zone, the Waymo Driver detected an unusual situation and requested the attention of a remote Fleet Response specialist to provide additional information," the company said. "During that interaction the Fleet Response team provided incorrect guidance, which made it challenging for the Waymo Driver to resume its intended route, and required Waymo's Roadside Assistance team to complete the trip."

"While the situation was not ideal, the Waymo Driver operated the vehicle safely until Roadside Assistance arrived," Waymo 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."

While Johnson's ride shows that the self-driving service has a way to go before the vehicles can be rolled out at a larger scale, the company is known as one of the frontrunners in autonomous driving and has the lowest reported rate of malfunctions, based on California self-driving reports.

Self-driving cars have recently come under fire. Last week, US senators came together to discuss regulating autonomous vehicles, after concern over a Tesla accident. On Monday, a preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board into the incident said Tesla's autopilot feature was not engaged during the fatal Texas crash.

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