Zoox Autonomous Vehicle Testing San Francisco

I went out in search of Zoox’s “secret lair” the other day. I read an article in Forbes that gave me some clues where to look:

A block from San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront is a place you’re not supposed to notice. The little two-story building has no sign out front. Not even a street number affixed to its gray brick walls. Every window and door contains shaded glass, and a black, razor-wire-topped fence obscures its parking lot.

Welcome to the San Francisco testing site of Zoox, one of the most secretive startups in the booming world of autonomous driving.

Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (copyright M Halberstadt)
Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (copyright M Halberstadt)

Hmmm, a block from San Francisco’s Embarcadero, a gray two story building with a black fence with razor wire…. could this be it? 

I think the matte black Toyota Highlanders with Lidar racks might be a hint, don’t you?

Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (copyright M Halberstadt)
Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (copyright M Halberstadt)

Once I found Zoox’s hiding spot, it was like shooting ducks in a barrel or however that metaphor works.

Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (copyright M Halberstadt)
Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (copyright M Halberstadt)

Unlike Google Alphabet Waymo out in the ‘burbs they get some real world problems in an urban environment of San Francisco, like lots of double parked delivery vehicles. 

Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (stock photo copyright M Halberstadt)
Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (stock photo copyright M Halberstadt)

I’m assuming the Lincoln MK Z I caught in my autonomous paparazzi sting was also from Zoox- but who knows. There aren’t many other self driving car projects in San Francisco.

Here are a few more stock photos from my library:

Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (stock photo copyright M Halberstadt)
Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (stock photo copyright M Halberstadt)
Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (stock photo copyright M Halberstadt)
Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (stock photo copyright M Halberstadt)
Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (stock photo copyright M Halberstadt)
Zoox Self Driving Car testing on the Streets of San Francisco (stock photo copyright M Halberstadt)

A Short Trip to Los Angeles

A friend of mine was moving from Culver City up to Portland. He’s a well known photographer, best known for his night photography and I was lucky enough to be there when he was cleaning house. I scored a car full of misc. camera crap and some nice meals with him and his wife.

Wende Museum of the Cold War, Culver City, CA

Unfortunately this wasn’t really a trip for photography and I only got out to shoot a couple times. 

Stalin, Freund, Genosse - Bust of Stalin at the Wende Museum of the Cold War, Culver City, CA
Stalin, Freund, Genosse – Bust of Stalin at the Wende Museum of the Cold War, Culver City, CA

Right around the corner from my friends place is the new location of the Wende Museum. It’s a museum about the cold war, a special interest of mine. Wende is German for turn about or so…. My interest was as a young man having visited divided Berlin first in 1987. I ended up with a serious interest (and unusual sympathy, especially as an American) for the former German Democratic Republic*. In German one might say I suffer from “Ostalgie”**.

Hammer and Cicle, Wende Museum of the Cold War, Culver City, CA
Hammer and Cicle, Wende Museum of the Cold War, Culver City, CA

The new museum was kind of short on GDR paraphanalia for my interest. But they had walls of old Soviet books that you could thumb through, busts of Stalin, and a lovely orange Wartburg (the other non-Trabant GDR car.)

Orange Wartburg Car, Wende Museum of the Cold War, Culver City, CA
Orange Wartburg Car, Wende Museum of the Cold War, Culver City, CA

The other subject I did have a chance to photograph that’s also a favorite of mine is cemeteries. I took my pole to Hollywood Forever cemetery for a few unusual angles in addition to shooting from eye level.

Tourists on a bridge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Tourists on a bridge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Film Set at the Hollywood Cemetery
Film Set at the Hollywood Cemetery

I have no idea what was being filmed- but there was a film crew repeating a scene with an old Rolls Royce hearse, a beautiful young actress with roses, and a handsome man. There was a sign on the mosoleum reading the 74th Valentino Memorial- and with further research I found that when I was there it was the 92 anniversary of Valentino’s death. So I guess they were doing some sort of historical reinactment? In any case it was fun to watch despite the heat.

Tourists on a bridge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Tourists on a bridge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery

I also visited a childhood friend and his family at Echo Park. Not that I have any photos to show for it yet, but I got a box full of old camera stuff. Some of it was mine that I loaned him a decade or two ago. But they also gave me a cherry Nikon F2 that I look forward to both photographing with and photographing (it’s that pretty!)

To quote Randy Newman: “I Love L.A.”

————-

* German Democratic Republic (shortened to GDR in English, or in German DDR or Deutsche Demokratische Republik- but known to most English speaking people as “East Germany”)

** Ostalgie is two German words mashed together: Ost (East) and Nostalgie (Nostalgia)

 

St Peter’s Chapel on Mare Island in Vallejo

St Peter’s Chapel Mare Island – Vallejo

For family reasons I found myself in Vallejo for a couple days. I wanted to do some photography on Mare Island, an area I spent a lot of time when living in Vallejo a decade ago. 

St Peter’s Chapel Mare Island – Vallejo

While taking a few stock photos of St Peter’s chapel a classic car came up and parked right out front. Looking at the photos it looks like a Buick 8 coupe from the 1940’s in spectacular shape. The owner must be quite a character, he came out in military dress clothes and walked a tiny dog. 

St Peter’s Chapel Mare Island – Vallejo

A Few More Self Driving Vehicle Pics

To keep current, I made a loop around a few self driving car projects. First two stops were a cluster of companies in Santa Clara: SF Motors and Voyage.

SF Motors

Regrettably, not much to see there. Nothing I could see in the parking lots, no interesting traffic in or out of their office parks or buildings. But for the stock photo library I made a couple of photos anyhow. 

Waymo Road Testing a Peterbilt Class 8 truck in Silicon Valley
Waymo Road Testing a Peterbilt Class 8 truck in Silicon Valley

So I went to a surefire location where I’d see more Lidars than anywhere else in Silicon Valley- the Google X building in Mountain View. Maybe they’d be testing something new there. 

Waymo Road Testing a Peterbilt Class 8 truck in Silicon Valley

Turns out Waymo was. At first it didn’t even register. At the stop sign in front of me I saw a blue big rig. I was in fact just standing there with my Sony A6500 slung over my shoulder ready to capture any self driving car to come my way. But this wasn’t a car, it was a semi-truck. And in looking up I saw it had a Lidar assembly on top. I got fewer photos than I should have. But I got a few. In researching I found out that Google is putting together a few Peterbilt autonomous trucks. Guess they’re trying to compete with OTTO/Uber freight?

And another unlikely autonomous vehicle poked its head out unexpectedly in front of me. I barely caught it, but while scanning the road for Lidar, a Toyota Research Lexus drove right past Google X’s building. 

“Special” stop signs

One new thing that caught my eye was the flags atop the new stop signs. I’m guessing that Waymo’s autonomous vehicles have trouble seeing such signs occasionally. Presumably they figure that out over time. Previously I noticed that there’s a cone permanently placed on an odd stretch of curb near Google X that I assumed was for the same reason.

Well that’s my report from another day in Silicon Valley.

Bi-Polar Santa Clara

At least I had one pole- this is a somewhat unique view of Santa Clara’s Civic Center Park and Fountain. With the drought over, there’s water in the fountain unlike last time I came here. While I came here with a pole (mono-polar?) There was a guy in the corner of the park shouting insults at me as I photographed. I was a bit worried but he never came too close. Eventually another vagrant came buy and the had a shouting match beneath the gaze of Saint Claire and my new Sony A6500.

Civic Center Park, Santa Clara, California, USA
Civic Center Park, Santa Clara, California, USA

Civic Center Park, Santa Clara, California, USA
Civic Center Park, Santa Clara, California, USA

 

Yahoo!, Youtube, Cruise Automation and the Golden Gate Bridge

Finally! I had a day to run around and shoot some stock.

Yahoo offices in Sunnyvale, Silicon Valley

I chose to head down to Sunnyvale to visit the Yahoo HQ.  Not that too much has changed, but I wanted an excuse to visit Weird Stuff Warehouse. Plus I wanted to do a little recon to see if there was any activity over at the Baidu and Renault/Nissan research centers. The only real difference notable at the Yahoo building was the flag up with “Oath, a Verizon Company” on it. BTW, weird name for a company…but whatever.

Yahoo offices in Sunnyvale, Silicon Valley

Now, on to San Bruno to YouTube HQ…. once again this was on my list to flesh out my stock photo archive of tech companies. Note to self, return in the morning when the light on the front will be better.

YouTube in San Bruno

Next stop was Cruise Automation in San Francisco. They’re GM’s self driving car research center. It’s funny- they try to make this a secret- the building is still labelled “Borden Decal Co.” But it’s hard to miss the Chevy Bolt EVs coming and going every few minutes with the funky Lidar antennae. 

Self Driving Car Testing on the Streets of San Francisco

And once I got more boring autonomous car testing pics, I headed to Crissy Field hoping to get some nice Golden Gate Bridge photos. I’ve posted a few here, but I did also shoot some medium format film too. Those won’t be ready for a while if they do turn out well. 

Cruise Automation Autos

After doing some homework, I found GM’s Cruise Automation garage in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. Two decades ago I worked not too far from the garage at Faulkner Color Lab. I think Faulkner collapsed in the first wave of the Dot Com hysteria of the late 1990’s and was leased to a pet food website.

Cruise Automation Self Driving Car (Chevy Bolt) Spotted on the Streets of San Francisco

In fact it was in this very neighborhood that I first experienced the graphical internet in the mid 1990’s at Icon Byte Bar and Grill. Prior to seeing the new W3 (World Wide Web) on Icon’s projection screen I got email on a command line browser over the phone line with a modem and a program called Pine, downloaded files with Gopher and Telnet. That was a long time ago!

Cruise Automation Self Driving Car (Chevy Bolt) Spotted on the Streets of San Francisco

Now SOMA is again at the forefront of technology. Here you can see GM’s Cruise Automation Bolts driving by. As is typical with these garages, they make a point of laying low. At least as best they can when trying to test out a billion dollar car research project in the middle of San Francisco! The garage still has the name of the previous company over the entrance.

Cruise Automation Self Driving Car (Chevy Bolt) Spotted on the Streets of San Francisco

As a photographer, I know I’m doing something good when the corporate lawyer walks across the street to talk to you 😉 A gentleman (after later researching I believe to be Matt Gipple,) asked if I minded letting him know what I was photographing. This happens a lot to me, and I really find it strange…. like you are in public, driving a car that is in dozens of news stories every day for a multi-billion dollar company working on a billion dollar project….. why wouldn’t you expect people photographing you???

In any case, here are the photos. I’ll be back to try and get some variety of locations and include the actual garage and any other relevant photos next time.

Planes, Trains, But not any Automobiles

Another objective I had visiting San Jose was getting a better feeling for my newish Sigma Contemporary 150-600mm lens. I’m using only Sony mirrorless cameras at the moment and along with Sigma’s MC-11 adapter, they’ve filled a gap in Sony’s lens lineup.

Airplane on approach to SJC
Southwest 737 approaching SJC

So my first (and it turns out my last) stop would be photographing aircraft on approach to San Jose’s international airport. That last bit used to make me giggle. That’s because not that long ago, SJC was only an international airport on a few technicalities. There were a couple flights to Mexico a week or something. But now there are regularly scheduled flights to and from Japan, China, Germany, too!

Airplane on approach to SJC
Hainan Air 787 (?) Approaching SJC

So there are more interesting planes flying in and out as well. In addition to the regular 737’s there are Airbus A320’s and Boeing 777’s as well.

Rail Traffic in San Jose at San Jose Diridon Station
Caltrain entering Diridron Station in San Jose (stock photo)

From planes, we move on to trains. I set out to test my lens on some rail traffic coming and going from San Jose’s Diridron (main, central, downtown, whatever train station you wanna call it.)

Rail Traffic in San Jose at San Jose Diridon Station
ACE train entering Diridon Station

It was really toasty, standing in the sunny weather atop the bridge.

Rail Traffic in San Jose at San Jose Diridon Station
Both planes and trains (Southwest 737 flying over Diridon station Caltrain, Amtrak and ACE trains)

After cooling down, I headed downtown and shot the VTA light rail too.

Light Rail in Downtown San Jose
Pedestrians and VTA light rail in Downtown San Jose

Stairway To Carmel-by-the-Sea

(with apologies to Led Zepplin)

After a quick detour for coffee and pastry at the Lafayette Bakery at the Barnyard, I headed off to the sea.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

This is another one of those, I know one of my clients is looking for something specific. In this case I saw Carmel on a list and figured it’s time to head back and shoot some stock.

My first stop was Carmel Meadows- a walking path along the sea. My parking spot deadended looking down a steepish stairway to the water below.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Though beautiful, it was a bit barron for what I was looking for. As I walked around, I only encountered one woman walking a dog.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

From there I went into the quaint little town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. There had been some nibbles on a few photos I’d taken previously of the Cypress Inn, so I thought I’d add a few more to the library.

I did a loop around the touristy main drag. One of the more photogenic places is the La Bicyclette- with a prop oldschool bike and French flags.

There’s that hobbit-esque candy shop that somehow I can never resist photographing as well.

From previous trips I have the other main touristy spot, the Mission pretty well covered, so no stops this time (but I’ll post an old pic here none-the-less.)

Mission Carmel, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA

(As far as I know, nobody reads this, so let me end this blog. So I’m gonna close with a fun closer, albeit in another language…)

To quote the Rosarote Panther: Heut’ ist nicht alle Tage, ich komm’ wieder keine Frage!

Rock Me Beethoven

(with my apologies to the late Falco and the even later Amadeus….)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San Jose, California, USA

San Jose has a wonderful newish Library. I’ve visited the MLK Library a few times already. But until now managed to avoid visiting the Beethoven Center.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San Jose, California, USA

The MLK Library is somewhat unique as I understand it as it is both the City of San Jose’s Public library and is shared as part of San Jose State University. In addition to having some of the best publicly accessible views of the city, it is home to a number of special collections. In addition to the aforementioned Beethoven Center, there’s also a Steinbeck center, California Room various special ethnic collections on the fifth floor.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San Jose, California, USA

As I arrived the Beethoven Center just a few minutes before closing. The gentleman there told me that he plays some of the historical pianos – but he was wrapping up to close so I’d have to come back another day.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San Jose, California, USA

And so I will!