Waymo robotaxis struggle to appropriately react when around traffic cones

Fully autonomous vehicles are not here yet, with Waymo's latest offering still taking its lumps.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor
Image: Getty Images

Fully autonomous vehicles are still a long way from coming to life, as displayed by Waymo's robotaxis struggling to appropriately detect traffic cones when driving on Arizona roads.  

In a video posted online, a Waymo robotaxi stopped driving whenever it was near a traffic cone and blocked traffic. Due to the lack of safety drivers in Waymo's robotaxi service, the vehicle repeatedly did not move for several minutes, which forced the passenger to call for rider support.

Waymo's robotaxis currently operate at Level 4 autonomy, which means they can "perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment in certain circumstances". According to the video, those circumstances do not include whenever the vehicle is near a traffic cone.

By comparison, a car with Level 5 autonomy can independently drive with the same capability as a human driver. Level 5 autonomy represents a fully autonomous vehicle that can go anywhere and at any time.

While various companies have developed vehicles with Level 4 autonomy capabilities, there is still yet to be a car classified with Level 5 autonomy.

Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said his company was close to providing "basic functionality" for delivering level 5 autonomous driving. 

"I'm extremely confident that level 5 or essentially complete autonomy will happen and I think will happen very quickly," Musk said at the time. 

Since making that claim however, Musk has not provided any official updates about a level 5 autonomous vehicle. Instead, Tesla recently admitted to the California DMV that its self-driving software only has level 2 automation.

Waymo's robotaxi service has been open to the general public since October last year. It first began as a trial in 2017 and, in early 2020, the company decided to no longer have safety drivers behind the wheel nor remote operators in the lead-up to the general public rollout.

Last month, the Alphabet-owned Waymo received $2.25 billion through its initial external funding round. This funding round was led by Silver Lake, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, and Mubadala Investment Company, with additional investors including Magna International, Andreessen Horowitz, and AutoNation, as well as Alphabet.

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