back to article San Francisco fog defeats pack of Waymo robo-taxis

A mayhem of self-driving Waymo cars succumbed to San Francisco fog on Tuesday morning and came to a halt, briefly tying up traffic in the city's Balboa Terrace neighborhood. Five Waymo robo taxis were baffled by Karl – the name by which the American city's frequent fog is known – and pulled over on San Aleso Avenue, according …

  1. DS999 Silver badge

    AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

    Because they have stuff like radar that can see through the fog. Us meatbags don't.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

      Just never forget that us poor, weak, failable meatbags are programming the things. Scared yet? You should be.

      1. b0llchit Silver badge

        Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

        My code never has bugs. They all fly away when I blow over the letters and numbers of the keyboard.

        You shouldn't be afraid of my programming. You should be afraid of my programming intentions.

        1. Crypto Monad Silver badge

          Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

          The problem is when they're *not* being programmed: they're just being giving *training data* and left to build some sort of billion-variable opaque model of the world for themselves.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

      From what I remember from sailing , radar only detects massive metal things , actually guess they dont have to be metal, but they need to be sizeable and not shaped like a stealth bomber.

      What I'm saying is I wouldnt feel safe crossing the road near a Johhny Cab - "cos radar"

      Unless "Radar" is now a catch all metaphore for every kind of obstacle detection / mapping technique available. including the white stick .

      1. ChrisC Silver badge

        Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

        Shorter wavelength (mm wave and beyond) radars are more than capable of detecting humans without their needing to be carrying a big plate of steel or a retroreflector device, so no, it's not necessarily just a case of using "radar" as a catch-all term.

        1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

          Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

          thanks for the clarification

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

          Isn't the shorter wavelength the stuff that's used in meteorology to detect rain clouds and stuff? So it it detected the water in humans? Would that be affected by dense fog?

          It's all well outside my area of knowledge, so, you know, just asking for some help here :-)

          I'd also assume LIDAR doesn't work too well in dense fog either.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

            if you use powerful enough radar waves, you'll be able to detect humans using their crispy smell...

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
              Coffee/keyboard

              Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

              Well done, you win the Internets!

    3. nijam Silver badge

      Re: AVs should be better in the fog than people driven cars

      > ...they have stuff like radar that can see through the fog.

      Despite which, they can't.

  2. Ol'Peculier

    Well, you can't blame them. It's not every day San Francisco is covered in thick fog...

    (actually, I've been there twice and never experienced it :( )

    1. jake Silver badge

      Come back in the summer and you'll discover that Karl the Fog is also known as our natural air conditioning. There is a reason that a local saying is "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" (unknown author, but often falsely attributed to Mark Twain).

      The Fog in The City isn't apocryphal, it's very real ... and the idiots programming these cars should be aware of it. One wonders what other safety issues they don't know about (or are simply ignoring because "nobody will ever do that!). Garbage in, garbage out.

      The chances of me trusting self-driving cars in my lifetime approach zero.

      1. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge
        Unhappy

        And then we moved to Melbourne, Victoria - and now we laugh about such comments.

        I've spoken to Russians and Canadians who have never felt so cold as in one of our 4-seasons-in-a-day summer days - never mind winter.

        The difference, of course, is largely that houses here would be condemned in most civilised countries as little more than refrigerator cartons with a home theatre system.

        1. jake Silver badge

          For typically over half the year, I can (and have) snow-ski at sunrise in the Sierra (20F/-7C), waterski at lunchtime in The Delta (88F/31C), surf at Davenport Landing for sunset(60F/15C), and then drive home over a very foggy and cold (45F/7C) Golden Gate Bridge. There are reasons people flock to California, and none of them are politics.

          1. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge
            Joke

            Reminds me of a quip told here about Queensland, supposedly by none other than Banjo Patterson:

            "Queensland is a beautiful place, with perfect weather and lovely scenery. If only it weren't for all the Queenslanders!"

            Insert California where needed. ;)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "houses here would be condemned in most civilised countries as little more than refrigerator cartons with a home theatre system"

          I'll see your Melbourne and raise you Dunedin.

          1. anothercynic Silver badge

            I hope you're referring to South Island? If so, how's Invercargill stack up to Dunedin? You don't have anything that stops the Antarctic wind coming right at ya!

          2. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge

            I've been to Dunedin. I almost suffered heat stroke.

            Of course that was after coming BACK from Antarctica, so the going from -50C to +15C might have something to do with that.

        3. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

          obligatory XKCD

          Interesting how far from extreme all the places being name-checked here really are.

          One El Niño summer in Melbourne and you'll never call it cold again.

      2. Orv Silver badge

        I live in Santa Barbara and marine fog and marine overcast is a pretty constant thing here, too. During the summer how warm any given day will get depends almost entirely on where you are relative to marine layer and how stable it is. Often it sticks around until about noon and then burns off, which is pretty ideal because you still get some sun but the high temperature gets held down.

        It's not unusual for it to be 20F hotter ten miles inland than it is at the shore.

    2. druck Silver badge

      On my last full day in California I rushed back down the coast get some pictures of the Golden Gate at sunset, and just as it should have come into view the densest fog I've ever experienced came out of nowhere. You couldn't see the bridge from the top of the viewpoint, hell, you couldn't even see the bridge when driving over the bridge. Of course it was a beautiful clear sunset the next day while on the plane taxiing out of SF.

      But still, no excuse for a self driving vehicle.

      1. jake Silver badge
        Pint

        Should have taken the Larkspur Ferry to SF and back instead of driving. Chances are it would have been clear on the water, and you'd have managed pictures of the Bridge disappearing into the marine layer. Us locals can predict the weather by how much of which parts of the Bridge are visible from a distance.

        Karl's a right capricious bugger. Have a beer.

        1. Strahd Ivarius Silver badge
          Coat

          isn't the prediction akin to:

          if you see the Bridge from <insert location>, there will be fog.

          if you don't see the Bridge from <same location>, then there is fog.

          1. jake Silver badge

            No, it's quite a bit more advanced than that.

            Has to do with high and low pressure changing the depth of the marine layer, and the fact that the Golden Gate itself (the gap being bridged) is the only real opening in the Coastal mountain chain for many miles north and south. The size and shape of the bridge itself act as a scale against which it's fairly easy to read subtle differences in air pressure and the speed/direction of the wind, as well as the depth/thickness of the marine layer, and how high it is off the water. That's the gist of it, but there are other factors that help in the prediction (water temperature at the off-shore buoys being a big one). I can go out about three days with good accuracy, I know some old folks who can get five days out with pretty good precision.

            San Francisco Fog has it's own entry in the Wiki near you.

      2. anothercynic Silver badge

        I suspect that Waymo is taking it carefully... as much as the cars can see each other, driving on blithely at speed because they can 'see' through the fog doesn't seem to gel well with... well... meatbags who might act irrationally during foggy conditions.

        This is why *everyone* should slow down during extreme weather conditions, even if their cars are equipped with the fastest braking system on the planet with the best ABS, slip control and the like... You don't know what others who don't have cars with the superb handling characteristics that yours does, do, or how their cars suddenly might lose grip and start doing silly things.

        So if a self-driving car decides to pull over as a precaution, I'd say that shows that Waymo at least thought this through and learned from the likes of a) Tesla (white semi crossing road and Tesla plowing into it), and b) Uber's self-driving unit fiasco in Phoenix (was it Phoenix where a self-driving Uber car thing ran over the cyclist?).

  3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Confusion

    Confusion about intent, particularly when driving at speed, could easily cascade into collisions or other problems on the road (such as holding up traffic)."

    That happens frequently with just meatbags behind the wheel, not leaving enough space in front and failure to anticipate resulting in that concertina effect of breaking, coming to a stop and taking off again. There is probably a proper term for it and many papers written on the subject.

    1. cookieMonster Silver badge

      Re: Confusion

      Re “ There is probably a proper term for it”

      Gobshite comes to mind

    2. ChoHag Silver badge

      Re: Confusion

      That's not confusing driving, that's just bad (ie. normal) driving.

      The difference between the types of bag behind the wheel is that anticipating the actions of other idiot humans is, quite literally, built into our DNA. Computers not so much.

      1. ian 22
        Stop

        Re: Confusion

        Where I live, automobiles used for teaching meat bags to drive have warning signs attached: "Student Driver". Something similar could be used for self-driving cars. "Auto auto" comes to mind. Forewarned is helpful.

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Terminator

    Each is armed with...

    four spinning LiDAR sensors, six radar sensors, fourteen cameras, and eight ultrasonic sensors, and assorted telemetry sensors monitoring the wheels, steering, brakes, and so on.

    And yet the fleshy meatbags manage with just two (sometimes fewer!) eyes and the seat of their pants... sounds like these robot thingies have some way to go.

    1. Alumoi Silver badge

      Re: Each is armed with...

      Yeap, they're missing the intellingence.

    2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Each is armed with...

      " sounds like these robot thingies have some way to go"

      Well, lets count the amount of car collisions caused by humans and compare it to the amount caused by robot drivers.

      and remember:

      A politician uses statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost, more for support than illumination

      1. nijam Silver badge

        Re: Each is armed with...

        > ...count the amount of car collisions caused by humans and compare it to the amount caused by robot drivers.

        Per mile driven, I hope.

  5. Winkypop Silver badge

    Sounds like

    You’d have Waymo-re luck in a meat bag taxi.

  6. steviebuk Silver badge

    Expensive

    With all these censors on these cars aren't they going to end up being expensive? And I assume there will be no right to repair so your local mechanic won't be allowed to fix it for you.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Expensive

      You won't be allowed to buy one. You'll hire one like a taxi or, at best, lease one.

      I see Ford have now been allowed to sell their "partial self-driving" cars in the UK now (geo-fenced to certain motorway routes) and while you buy the car, the level 2 hands-free driving is only "free" for a short while and then becomes a subscription only service.

      "censors"

      And there'll be no swearing, "making out" with your "friend" or watching smutty videos on your phone while in one due to all those censors :-)

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Expensive

        "and then becomes a subscription only service."

        At which point I (or more likely a high-profile lawfirm) file a class-action lawsuit against Ford to return the money for all the suddenly broken-by-design hardware that they sold me (and tens of thousands of others ... thus the class action). Followed immediately by another class action to remove all the components used by said system, so as to not unnecessarily weigh the car down and waste fuel/'leccy ... WILL NOBODY THINK ABOUT THE CHILDRENVIRONMENT????

        Swearing will take care of itself, no government anywhere can stop it, no matter how hard the fuckers try.

        You shouldn't be watching pR0n your phone, or making out, when behind the wheel .... When you are driving, DRIVE. It's kind of important.

  7. trevorde Silver badge

    Meanwhile at Tesla

    [interim CEO] Hey, Elon! Look what those idiots at Waymo have done! ... Elon? ... [desperately] ELON?

  8. Graham Cobb Silver badge

    Expectations

    there are very long-standing conventions, expectations, and human interactions

    This is an excellent insight. A lot of driving in cities is built on these sorts of conventions and expectations. Experienced city drivers know that bus drivers will start to move shortly after their last passenger steps on, taxis will jump into a tiny space in front or beside but most other drivers will be more open to taking turns, some cars will take a "no right turn" that is clearly only there to improve traffic flow, cyclists will pull in front of you as they cross the traffic lights before they are green, etc. This isn't about what is legal, but how real road users behave on city streets - which is very different from how they behave on suburban roads or highways.

    There is no replacement for the experience from driving down Shaftesbury Avenue at 7PM, Marylebone Road at 8AM or tiny streets in the City at 3PM. Autonomous cars should be much better than us because they can (instantly) share the experience their whole fleet has acquired over their whole history. However, it doesn't look like these makers are concentrating on learning from experience like humans do.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Expectations

      "However, it doesn't look like these makers are concentrating on learning from experience like humans do."

      That seems to be the case with pretty much all so-called AI that has been foisted on us. Even ChatGPT and equivalents comes in "versions" as they train new ones. With the chat ones, it's been made abundantly clear that they can't tell right from wrong and can easily be "trained" by users to become highly offensive, so now they don't do that. In the case of "AI" controlling cars on the road, there's a chance one car will "learn" some bad behaviour and pass it on the rest of the fleet thereby leading to the enormous likelihood of autonomous cars causing accidents, injuries or death where the operating company has no idea why or how it happened. An insurance nightmare. Passing on information about roadworks and traffic jams is one thing, but passing on behavioural reaction type learning in a live environment is something that they simply can't do. It needs to be in a consistent and known state.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Expectations

        "It needs to be in a consistent and known state."

        Exactly. That's why it needs to be stuffed into it's own sandbox.

        Self driving cars have no place in traffic. They are an accident waiting to happen.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fog in SF is not exactly a surprise. Incompetent buffoons who didn't think through what they were creating is the actual culprit.

  10. Alistair Wall

    Was the fog so thick that human drivers should have pulled over and waited for it to clear?

  11. ecofeco Silver badge
    Coat

    Apologies upfront -------------->>>>

    I left Waymo

    In San Fransico

    High on a hill,

    it calls to me

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