I’ve had a good time documenting Google’s adorable little self driving pod car. Just having read that Waymo’s prototype was being retired I was reminded of chasing those cars all over parking lots and streets of Silicon Valley from nearly the beginning of the project.
It’s fun to see the progression over the years. The stubby LIDAR in the beginning, then the clear plastic dome, and later a black dome.
In the beginning when I first found the car being (illegally?) tested in a public City of Mountain View parking lot I got some grief from the testers for photographing their vehicle.
Later, as Google moved on to a new building and the prototypes became ubiquitous I could just sit on a park bench near their “garage” and wait for my subjects to come to me.
While the Chrysler self driving minivans may be more practical, frankly their aesthetically boring! The “pod car” design by YooJung Ahn really stood out as futuristic.
I wasn’t too keen on the “artwork” that was placed on the doors a few years back aesthetically speaking.
But the most recent “Firefly” with the Waymo logo on it and the lit teal bar on the door struck me as pretty cool.
I’ve been trying to dump all relevant stock photos from a month of stock shootin’ on the web. A while back Godaddy- one of my hosts, changed some settings screwing up my “imagefarm” that I setup a couple years back.
But alas, I finally found the setting and fixed it.
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.
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!
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.
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.
I’m hoping to make this a regular thing. I’ll put a month of stock photos up in a gallery, ideally at or near the end of that month. But alas, here’s last month’s edition.
In this edition:
Vacuum tubes, Cacti, a robotic barista, Alameda NAS at night, tugboats, Salesforce Tower, Union Square, MOAD, Pflueger’s Pacific Telephone Building, Pepper the Robot, Westfield Mall in SF, Yerba Buena, UBER self driving car, OTTO self driving truck, the Alameda Ferry, Alameda micro-brews, Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery, Santa Clara University and their self driving shuttle AURO, Salinas, San Juan Bautista, San Jose’s Main MLK library (including the Mozart room), and maybe some other stuff……
My step-mom April Halberstadt attends church on the Santa Clara University Campus. Knowing my proclivity for chasing self driving vehicles down the Streets of Silicon Valley, she made a point of letting me know that there’s a self driving shuttle on campus.
While recently in the neighborhood, I went to see what’s going on in Santa Clara and swing by the university campus. Most of what’s interesting to see is in or around the university. The city and university are centered around the mission. While on campus, I typically swing by the De Saissat museum- but I was too early on this visit.
In any case, there was no sign of the self driving shuttle actually, I noticed there literally was a sign, literally (!) that I passed. But in any case, there I was minding my own business checking out the Mission building when up pulled the Auro. A young man seated in the Auro (guess we can’t call him the driver) was asked by a lady passing by, so if you have to choose between hitting a pedestrian or a skateboarder what happens. At that point I chimed in suggesting the Auro should hit the skateboarder because they are more annoying. They then went on to discuss the “Trolley Problem” and I kept photographing.
What was nice, from my perspective at least, is that the Auro is very slow. And that it has a route and stop right in front of the iconic mission. So after a few photos close up, I sat and relaxed at the fountain a ways back to get a more distant view. After getting a few sans vehicle photos eventually the Auro drove slowly towards me. In fact, another little similarly configured electric powered utility vehicle zoomed right past the Auro. The series of photos fit nicely into an animated GIF (see below.)
Just to clear things up first, no you will not see any photos on this post of the new rumored Chrysler-Fiat Pacifica Self Driving minivan. It is in the works as I understand it, and have seen some photos online in a Google parking garage. But eventually, they will have to take this thing out for testing, and I’ll be there ASAP snapping away.
However, I did get to sit on a bench on a pleasant fall day and snap some nice photos of other Google autonomous cars passing by. I felt kinda like a fisherman might feel fishing out of a stocked pond.
At one point (while I was on the phone to my friend and fellow photographer Christian 1*) I heard the electric car whirring sound on my left. I excused myself from the phone call, stood up and saw two of those cute 2 seat prototype autonomous cars on my left, then looked to the right and saw another one! It was like I was being surrounded.
Unfortunately for my stock photo luck, there was another interesting scene – that could have been an even better contrast had there been a self driving car there as well. A homeless guy (?) came riding down the slight hill next to the Google X building carrying a bunch of huge bags full of recycling.
I’ll head down soon and see if I can find this rumored vehicle in the wild.
Discussion abounds about the future of driverless cars. Uber is testing self-driving Volvos in Pittsburg, Google has had a program going on for quite some time in Silicon Valley. Rumors of Apple testing a vehicle at Gomentum have abounded for some time (there’s got to be an Apple joke in there, like they couldn’t get it to work because the power plugs kept changing!)
Thing is, these cars can’t really work at present, at least in the US.
Let me elaborate. The technology is amazing, and full of promise. And self driving cars could work with a human to step in. But the United States is a special case as a first world country. We have some pretty strict laws on the books as you’d expect of an advanced democracy. But we don’t enforce lots of those laws, as you would expect from a developing country.
Self driving car manufacturers can not take our chaotic streets in to account. The law as written in the vehicle code says that to proceed a vehicle must wait for the intersection to be clear of pedestrians. Yet anybody who’s been on a busy big city street in the US knows the whole town would shut down if all the laws were actually obeyed. When I drive in San Francisco, say on Market Street wanting to make a right turn on one of the busier intersections, there are literally hours a day where it would not be legally possible.
Some percentage of pedestrians wait for their light to turn green, but many do not, and the intersection at some times of day simply is never completely clear. Cars and trucks routinely double park, making drivers cross over double yellow lines against the law. Posted speed limits are also meant as a legal maximum, yet are treated as a minimum by most drivers.
Crime in the US is also another issue making the use of a truly autonomous car dangerous in many parts of the US. Just imagine that cute little google car, with the plastic windows driving in a bad part of any big city in America. Remember, this car has to obey the law, and the rest of the world does not. And they’re talking about not even having a steering wheel for a manual override. So two people could easily completely stop a true autonomous vehicle, simply by stepping in front and behind it. This could be done just to be a jerk because they think it’s funny- it could be used to intimidate the driver occupant, or presumably a third thug could remove the driver occupant(s) from the vehicle with little difficulty rob, plunder or do whatever criminals do.
While I can see a fully autonomous vehicle actually working in Japan, Korea, certain parts of northern Europe and a few other spots, I can’t imagine a vehicle sans-steering wheel succeeding here. Like so many other brilliant inventions that started here (think of the Bullet Trains, or fast internet for example) our culture of chaos is great at creating ideas- then letting other cultures apply those ideas to daily life.