News

Caution, enthusiasm mix at Waymo meeting

Residents question independent review of the autonomous technology's safety capabilities

Joe Fredrick of Palo Alto, second from left, Chacko Neroth of Sunnyvale, far left, and other Peninsula residents gather beside one of Waymo's autonomous vehicles and inspect the car's LIDAR tracking device and radar sensors after a presentation at Cubberley Community Center about the company's driverless car technology. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Although Waymo was granted permission to launch its autonomous cars without a human driver on Midpeninsula streets by the Department of Motor Vehicles earlier this month, some residents at a community meeting in Palo Alto on Tuesday night vowed to put the brakes on the project while others embraced the technology wholeheartedly.

Waymo representatives met with about 50 residents at Cubberley Community Center to allay fears about public safety and describe how the driverless cars work. The company does not plan to have cars operate fully autonomously in Palo Alto and other local cities in the near future, said Sydnee Journel, local policy and community manager. But when it does, it will notify city officials and the DMV, though she did not have a timeline for when that might occur.

Mountain View-based Waymo has spent a decade gathering data and putting its technology through the paces. In 2009, it tested the technology using driver assistance on Toyota Prius vehicles and worked on 10, 100-mile routes, including on all Bay Area bridges, she said. It tackled freeways through 300,000 miles of testing in 2012 using Lexus cars, then moved using driver assistance on city streets in the Bay Area in 2013.

It developed a fully driverless car, the Firefly, this year, which is the first vehicle to no longer have a steering wheel and pedals.

The company received permission from DMV to run a fleet of 39 cars in Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Sunnyvale.

Resident Penny Ellson asked what sources of third-party safety data the company has and how the data was independently validated for Waymo's technology. Journel said the company follows federal government vehicle safety regulations and state rules and local regulations regarding public safety.

The federal Department of Transportation has guidelines for autonomous vehicles and the Society of Automotive Engineers has set industry standards for autonomous vehicles that Waymo follows. The company is also working with the National Safety Council, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Department of Transportation and DMV to set parameters, Journel said. The company is also working with local law enforcement.

The technology has clocked in 10 million self-driving miles on public roads, worked through 20,000 scenarios using National Highway Transportation Safety Administration data to ensure the cars can handle most common scenarios leading to collisions and tested the cars in 25 cities. The company has also recorded 7 billion practice miles driven in simulation.

Journel showed images of how the cars are programmed to pick out individuals out of a crowd of hundreds of people so it can distinguish each individual or object's movements. The refinement allows the car to take in more information than a human driver normally perceives while driving, she said.

Waymo launched an "early rider program" in Phoenix, Arizona in early 2017, providing residents access to the fully self-driving fleet each day throughout an area twice the size of San Francisco, she said.

The cars communicate directly with each other most of the time to signal how they should interact, but whenever there are confusing or unknown situations, the cars send a message through cellular systems to a dispatch center where humans direct the vehicles, she said.

When a school bus in the Phoenix area was involved in an evacuation drill with children exiting the vehicle, a Waymo car near the scene sent a message to the company's dispatch center, which radioed to all other Waymo vehicles in the area to avoid the scene, she said.

"The most outstanding thing is the Waymo will obey traffic laws and will force people to follow the laws," she said.

But some Palo Alto residents had reservations that the Waymo cars won't actually cause accidents or consequential damages. Frustrated human drivers in other vehicles could speed up and cut around the Waymo, which can cause head-on collisions when the drivers cross into oncoming lanes.

One resident, who declined to be named, said he and his neighbors plan to file a lawsuit to prevent the cars from being on Palo Alto streets. He said he saw an accident near Alma Street and San Antonio Road where there is a traffic island and the Waymo car went left instead of right. A child on a bicycle fell over and hit her head, he said. The driver assisting the vehicle left the scene and, when later confronted by residents, refused to provide his name, the man said.

"This is a burden on our city. I'm not against technology, but we're going to storm City Hall if these cars come to Palo Alto," he said.

Waymo officials said that cities couldn't choose to keep the autonomous vehicles off the road. The decisions come only from the state through DMV.

Noah Durant, an operations team driver who assists the Waymo vehicles while traveling in the city, said that some people have road rage when they encounter the autonomous vehicle driving the speed limit and obeying laws. "That's understandable," he said.

But the car can compensate for another driver's bad behavior. "The car is very conservative of its surroundings" when taking any action, he said.

One thing the car can't do it to teach children how to read clues from the cars regarding its behaviors. Human drivers wave someone on to cross in front of them, for example.

Parked curbside outside the meeting room, a Waymo vehicle attracted numerous residents. Its revolving LIDAR tracking device, radar, cameras and sensors continually gathered data.

Fred Bockmann, an admirer of the technology, said he is excited about the autonomous car. He purchased one of the first Chevrolet Volt electric vehicles eight-and-a-half years ago and is looking forward to the advances that were only dreams 12 years ago.

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Comments

24 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 28, 2018 at 10:15 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"One resident, who declined to be named, said he and his neighbors plan to file a lawsuit to prevent the cars from being on Palo Alto streets. He said he saw an accident near Alma Street and San Antonio Road where there is a traffic island and the Waymo car went left instead of right. A child on a bicycle fell over and hit her head, he said."

Good. Keep us posted.

"The driver assisting the vehicle left the scene and, when later confronted by residents, refused to provide his name, the man said."

If they're this irresponsible during the "trial" period, imagine what will happen later. But this is the type of accountability we've come to expect from tech companies who aren't set up to respond to complaints and can only put up generic FAQs and ask "Was this message helpful? Yes or No." while the problem stays unresolved.


30 people like this
Posted by pedestrians
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 28, 2018 at 10:42 am

Yes, these robot cars are going to make mistakes and go the wrong way down roads and not see pedestrians etc, but so do human driver cars. The big reason that robot cars are safer is that they always obey the speed limit while a huge number of human drivers speed every day. Slower speeds are always safer on streets with pedestrians. Even driving 5mph slower can mean the difference between life and death for a pedestrian.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2018 at 11:10 am

What I do want to know is whether these cars driving when unoccupied will be apparent that they are empty. I would hate someone to risk their life trying to save an occupant after a horrendous accident beside a cliff, or a fiery inferno only to later discover the car had nobody to save.


18 people like this
Posted by The answer to Penny Ellson's question
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 28, 2018 at 11:31 am

The answer to Penny Ellson's question is a registered user.

Penny Ellson asked if data collected by Waymo had been verified by any independent third party. The short answer is NO. It has not.


Waymo has collected data in compliance with state and fed regulations--but ALL of the safety data used by governmental agencies to decide whether or not they should be allowed to pilot driverless vehicles on public streets has been gathered by Waymo who stands to profit handsomely from government approval.

This seems to me to be a conflict of interest.


14 people like this
Posted by Gnar
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 28, 2018 at 1:08 pm

Can we request a modification to the algorithm: if the car is driving 5 mph under the speed limit, tell it to move the **** out of the inner lane? Slower traffic is obligated to keep right, and these cars don't respond to the 7-car backup behind them.


21 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 28, 2018 at 1:14 pm

I am a crossing guard for Gardner Bullis school in Los Altos, at the intersection of Foothill Expressway and Edith Avenue. I have seen -twice in a week- a Waymo "smart" car refuse to acknowledge a left-turn green light.
The first day it happened, the car sat all thru the green light and did not budge. It had to satay for a full cycle of the light. When that light came, the car still refused to budge, and only at the very last second he could did the driver urge the car into what he had left on the light. And there were a bevy of cars lined up behind him, collecting through both lights Of course, none of them had the chance to turn- on THIS light. When their turn came, there were so many they stacked all the way out across Edith and into what were going to be the )northbound oncoming) traffic.
The second time, just yesterday, a Waymo car sat at that light almost to the end of its green light turn, until, again, at the last second, the driver urged it on> And of course only 1 or two cars were able to follow to complete their turn.
The Waymo cars maybe "artificially intelligent" but they are a long way from being "smart" cars, yet.


11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2018 at 1:35 pm

Posted by Gnar, a resident of Fairmeadow

>> Can we request a modification to the algorithm: if the car is driving 5 mph under the speed limit, tell it to move the **** out of the inner lane? Slower traffic is obligated to keep right, and these cars don't respond to the 7-car backup behind them.

If they behave the way they did a while back, the car is just trying to get and stay in the left lane in order to turn left. Are you sure it is 5 mph -under- the speed limit?

I have the same problem, albeit not 5 mph under the speed limit, but, at the speed limit. Cars on Middlefield won't let you get over at a reasonable distance before, e.g., Meadow, so, I have to get over early when I have the chance, and then, they get mad at me for driving 25 mph in the left lane for too long. Traffic police cost too much, I guess, so they keep trying to get people to behave with speed bumps and such. If they started handing out tickets for going 35 in 25 zone, we wouldn't need all these speed bumps.


2 people like this
Posted by Another Alternative
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2018 at 2:34 pm

Best solution for both driver and driverless vehicles would be to install guidance tracks on the road and operate automobiles like slot cars.


17 people like this
Posted by CJM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 28, 2018 at 5:47 pm

When I was a young mother with teenagers I wished that I had driverless cars. With driving and drinking I spent endless nights awake waiting for one of my children. In fact, my children did have friends who died in car accidents. Imagine you let your teenager go out for the evening and you do not have to worry if they make it home. Imagine your 90 year old mother can go to the store and not worry about driving. I know there will be accidents but overall I think these cars will save more lives.


2 people like this
Posted by basically already driverless
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 28, 2018 at 6:04 pm

The biggest take-away that I got from the meeting is that the WayMo (previously Google) cars you see on the road with a warm-body behind the steering wheel are already DRIVER-LESS. They showed video of THEIR OWN EMPLOYEES playing with their phones, putting on make-up, and NAPPING while they were behind the wheel of these cars. No mention that any of these employees were fired or even reprimanded.

So, the reality is that these cars are already on our roads (and have been for years) without a fully alert driver behind the wheel.
The new difference will be that there will be no more illusion of a human driver.


9 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 28, 2018 at 6:53 pm

With over 37,000 killed in collisions in 2016 where 94% are due to driver errors, we should be willing to tolerate conservative driving.

The resident that declined to be named, who said he saw an accident near Alma Street and San Antonio Road treated the meeting a a court "deposition" (his word.) Since Waymo records all the drive information they should be able to validate his claim. He was disruptive and was told by the presenter to let other people ask questions and raise his hand if he wish to talk.


10 people like this
Posted by Validation
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 28, 2018 at 9:16 pm

Question should. be towards the state and not necessarily waymo:
Which third party created a set of tests for driverless car company to pass the DMV test?
Who looked over that testplan to make sure it is reasonable and regressable and repeated under various situations?
Who validated the test results?
Where is that public information?


21 people like this
Posted by Let's Dumb Down Tech Big Time
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 28, 2018 at 9:31 pm

I think the world was better without:
> Social Networking
> Tracking Apps
> Autonomous Vehicles
> Venture Caps addicted to Money over Economic Improvement
> Replacing CA residents for cheaper and unfortunately, better educated in Tech hires
> Tech people managing what CA should care about
> Chronic News coverage and updates all the time
> Constant communication from every tech item
> and almost all "Smart Tech" in general, look at Nest - the thing tracks you all the time and your life is being shared all over countries like Pakistan, India, even Russia...

Look at Microsoft, Windows 10 works by entirely tracking you and selling you off to everyone, and to make it worse you pay for Windows 10. Psychologically you can switch off things, and edit the Register or Group Policy, but the following update adds more things to switch off.

Windows 7 and XP were fine.

Zuckerberg wants everyone to be on Social VR, and look the Founders of Oculus and Instagram left Facebook for a reason (or several).

Zuckerberg didn't even show up to a meeting with world lawmakers which would have finally made some positive change to the company.

The Bay Area would be Perfect - just Perfect without Facebook, the gamey tech startups like DoorDash, GrubHub (that are taking local favorite restaurants away), Twitter, Linkedin Snap Chat, Instagram, Oculus VR, and a list of other companies. They have done way more harm than good in this country - if not the entire world. Have you seen how many teenagers commit suicide from constant communication bullying? Have you noticed the spike in shootings that are nearly 99% related to interaction done through social networking?

If we didn't have constant "popular" social networking, everyone could deal with problems on their own - like it used to be done in the country. No one should spew out their personal garbage or hurt people just to hurt people - over and over.

In more ways than one, we are authors - and Facebook should actually be paying its users for their comments because Facebook is an Internet Publishing company. And since it is a publishing company, does it even have a right to be using company names, trademarks and trademark images for free?


20 people like this
Posted by Agreed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2018 at 9:38 pm

Ya, and the price of housing would go way down. There wouldn't be a need to build McMansions if the area was not flooded with Tech Billionaires.


29 people like this
Posted by For Parents
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 28, 2018 at 9:45 pm

All the schools make the children do today is code.

It's all STEM and the focus is that everyone will get into Tech Jobs. But it hasn't worked that way. There is no guaranteed job after they get their Computer Science degree after years of just coding.

They spend hours on their phone, then their computer, then they go to Coding clubs, then they play Fort Night. It's not stop.

The area has lost family fun areas like bowling alleys, and the putt-putt range in Redwood City. Playgrounds are being taking out.

And hotels and buildings are using depressing Grays all over the place because they know that the "Millennials" only care about their screens. It's depressing. Soon all of the landscape might disappear and be replaced with concrete. So Depressing.


12 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 28, 2018 at 10:56 pm

I will rejoice the day when autonomous robot cars render it no longer necessary for me to waste my time visiting or calling the DMV about renewing my driving license.


6 people like this
Posted by Random Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2018 at 9:41 am

@Gnar -- you're mixing

CA Veh. Code 21654: "(a) Notwithstanding the prima facie speed limits, any vehicle proceeding upon a highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at such time shall be driven in the right-hand lane for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand edge or curb, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway."

and

CA Veh. Code 21656: "On a two-lane highway where passing is unsafe because of traffic in the opposite direction or other conditions, any vehicle proceeding upon the highway at a speed less than the normal speed of traffic moving in the same direction at that time, behind which five or more vehicles are formed in line, shall turn off the roadway at the nearest place designated as a turnout by signs erected by the authority having jurisdiction over the highway, or wherever sufficient area for a safe turnout exists, in order to permit the vehicles following it to proceed."


2 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 29, 2018 at 10:57 am

Quote: "The most outstanding thing is the Waymo will obey traffic laws and will force people to follow the laws," she said.

Traffic is not best served by everyone following the letter of the law. Perhaps you might have to violate it to prevent an accident, or provide a simple courtesy to another driver or pedestrian. That might include judicious speeding to maintain the flow of traffic or maintain safety margins. I have no wish to serve mindless, robotic masters who have zero judgement in practical matters.


5 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2018 at 11:13 am

Waymo vehicles don't text while driving. They get my vote.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2018 at 11:17 am

Posted by Rick, a resident of Adobe-Meadow

>> Quote: "The most outstanding thing is the Waymo will obey traffic laws and will force people to follow the laws," she said.

>> Traffic is not best served by everyone following the letter of the law.

No, but, in the most contentious case, it is. If you want to drive 130 MPH across I-80 in Nevada, what do I care?** But, you want to go 35-40 MPH down Middlefield in the middle of a residential neighborhood, I do care. Slow down.

** = (Well, actually, I do. You may not care about the police, the EMTs, the ER nurses, the ER doctors, who all have to deal with the outcome, but, I've known a number of these professionals, and, yes, it is pretty hard on them sometimes, just like in the TV shows. But, I realize that it is going to take a long time to get the auto genie back in the bottle.)


1 person likes this
Posted by Roy
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 29, 2018 at 1:04 pm

First: By "accident" I assume you mean all collisions, regardless of the cause. I am battling against the use of the term "accidents" to describe collisions because it implies a lack of fault and responsibility ("Whoops. It was an accident.Oh well."). Plus there are times when people (and soon machines) will intentionally collide (e.g. the classic trolley problem, mental illness, anger).

But my main point is that, in other fields such as medicine and psychology, tests involving human subjects (voluntary or not) must undergo extensive review and refinement as part of an "IRB" (institutional review board) process. Those that involve children or disabled people are subject to even greater scrutiny. International declarations on human rights form the basis of some of the decisions. So, if the companies want to follow regulations and deploy products that is one thing. If they want to conduct research and use data that involves all of us then that is a very different thing. Regulations on what can legally run on a road are not the only consideration.


3 people like this
Posted by no way mo
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 29, 2018 at 6:11 pm

we assume that these driverless cars need to go to DMV and stand in line and wait for hours like all the other drivers, and get their photo taken, and take the drivers written test in order to get their driver's licenses. they can wait in line just like everyone else who is required to get their licenses. Before we even think about driverless cars, we need to get "driverless" workers at the DMV that actually help people who want licenses. We waited 6 hours at the DMV along with everyone else. All the while, there were three workers- one was on break, and 15 vacant desks. There is no way the DMV has any clue how to run their department let alone trying to put driverless cars on the street. This is a disaster waiting to happen. You put these things on the road and everyone is in danger--other drivers, pedestrians, bikers, pets. Driving in the rain, snow, mud splashed on the cameras, and lack of common sense will make these cars useless. the traffic is bad enough without having to deal with this idiotic idea. Put the driverless cars where they belong and keep there-- Disneyland autotopia. that is the only place they will be safe. who cares if they don't text--they will cause more damage than anyone who is texting. this is a danger to all of us. Stop this non-sense. --a total waste of money and human life. Get them off the road immediately. Can you even imagine one of these things on the freeway?? what an absolute joke!!


1 person likes this
Posted by driver less
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 29, 2018 at 6:21 pm

it is appalling how many idealistic people there are. What stats tell us that these cars are going to be safer? where is that information. When something is stated on the tv or newspaper--everyone jumps on board and mimics the talking-points. Stats are thrown out there like it is the truth--no, it is just talking points. there are NO stats to back up any wisdom that driverless cars are going to be safer. How does anyone come up with that? this is nothing more than greed for fortunes to made by a few--if this nonsense keeps going. there are no stats about the safety of these cars. but, the companies like google, way-mo, and whoever else, will tell you that these are the safest things ever. Non-sense. there is absolutely no stats to say whether these cars are safe or not--but, use common sense-- seriously driverless cars are as safe as a car can be with no thinking driver who can make in the moment decisions as to the right move to reach an objective. Take this stupid idea off the road.


1 person likes this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 29, 2018 at 11:39 pm

Hey, Anon,

Take my comments in the spirit they were offered. You can come up with counter-examples to any positive comment and it does nothing to advance the discussion. Waymo slavishly adheres to the letter of the law and that does not, in general, comsider the spirit of the law. How many times have you given way to another driver who did not have the right-of-way yet may have unfairly trapped by a long line of opposing vehicles. Waymo lacks judgement, and empathy, and kindness. And, yes, it won’t do 30 on a road designed for 35 yet signed for 25. I do actually believe that, in the whole, the robots will decrease accident rates overall, but that might not be a good thing in the end.


1 person likes this
Posted by @Rick
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2018 at 1:11 am

"I do actually believe that, in the whole, the robots will decrease accident rates overall, but that might not be a good thing in the end."

Wow.


5 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 30, 2018 at 11:33 am

Unintended consequences. More people could conceivably die or be injured by waymo induced traffic delays. Use your imagination.. cause and effect are not necessarily obvious. I fid it discouraging that i have to point this out.


7 people like this
Posted by Just Say No to Waymo
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 30, 2018 at 11:55 am

Waymo = "Danger Will Robinson, Danger Will Robinson."


3 people like this
Posted by Who, besides Waymo, is collecting their safety data?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 30, 2018 at 12:57 pm

Who, besides Waymo, is collecting their safety data? is a registered user.

I agree. We should ask the California DMV, not Waymo:

- What independent third party collected data on Waymo's safety performance? Answer: NONE. I have asked repeatedly. Waymo admits they, not any third party, collected all of the data. Am I the only one who sees a conflict of interest here?
- What independent third party created a set of tests for driverless car company to pass the DMV test?
- Who looked over that test plan to make sure it is reasonable and regressable and repeated under various situations?
- Who validated the test results?
- Where is that public information?

When asked about this, Waymo points to their corporate web site. waymo.com/safety I would like to see a DMV website that documents the public meetings and public agency review of Waymo's data and what criteria the DMV used in their decision to approve driverless use of this technology on public streets. Where can members of the public find the government's documentation of this process?

This is a matter of PUBLIC street use and safety. The governmental decision-making process should be publicly documented. Where is it?


2 people like this
Posted by Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 2, 2018 at 1:05 pm

Alum is a registered user.

As much as I do support the technology and the potential benefits it has in the long term, it is very clear that Waymo vehicles are not "smart" enough to be left to their own devices yet. They still lack the judgement of how to handle situations that aren't accounted for in the rulebooks. They still make mistakes, which either hold up traffic or do cause unsafe situations. I would be more comfortable if the test drivers remained in the cars and were more attentive than what has been seen around town.


8 people like this
Posted by Waymo Alternative
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 2, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Personally speaking, we don't need any Waymo technology.

Our live-in gardener/groundskeeper is also our personal chauffeur and he has a very clean driving record...no accidents, DUIs etc.

Waymo advocates (if any) should consider doing the same.


Like this comment
Posted by @Waymo Alternative
a resident of another community
on Dec 2, 2018 at 9:22 pm

Poe's Law in action.


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