Last week, a Jaguar I-Pace outfitted with Waymo’s extensive autonomous driving sensors hit a pedestrian on a rainy evening in San Francisco’s Height neighbourhood. Luckily, the injuries to the pedestrian don’t appear to be major, and Waymo has stated that the car was being driven by a normal, moist human as opposed to being under the control of Waymo’s self-driving system.
A CCTV video showing the area of the impact is linked in the Reddit post of a witness, though the actual impact is off-camera. The video does show the environment just prior to the crash, and there are a number of challenging factors at work on the neighbourhood street, including rain and a wet road, along with a parked police car with flashing lights and reflections, which does create a challenging visual environment for anyone, human or machine.
The Waymo car does seem to be driving sort of fast for that street and conditions in the video, but that’s just me looking at the video, and in no way should be taken conclusively, as I do not have speed information at this time.
You can see the safety driver’s hands on the wheel in the video, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean the safety driver was in control, it does at least show they weren’t texting or blatantly not paying attention.
Waymo PR representative Katherine Barna responded to a tweet about the accident, stating that the car was under human control at the time:
Katherine from Waymo PR here. We are aware of this incident involving a Waymo vehicle, which was being driven in manual mode, and are continuing to investigate it in partnership with local authorities.
— Katherine Barna (@kathbarna) December 16, 2021
Investigators will likely confirm or deny this, but based on the poor weather, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the car was being human-driven. Of course, Waymo does do testing under inclement weather, which makes sense as automated vehicles will need to drive in all kinds of conditions, though their safety report does specify “behavioural competencies” of their safety drivers that includes
43 Detect and Respond to Unanticipated Weather or Lighting Conditions Outside of Vehicle’s Capability (e.g. rainstorm)
44 Detect and Respond to Unanticipated Lighting Conditions (e.g. power outages)
…both of which, weather and lighting conditions, appear to be factors in the conditions of this incident, and likely would have prompted a safety driver to take control.
Of course, humans make mistakes while driving, which is part of why anyone is bothering trying to figure out how to make machines do it at all, and these conditions could be challenging for people as well.
Waymo issued a generic-sounding statement saying:
“The trust and safety of the communities in which we drive
are paramount to us, and we will continue investigating this
incident in partnership with local authorities,”
…and they do seem to have contacted California’s DMV, and will file a crash report for evaluation.