Driverless Waymo Struggles With Cop’s Hand Signals

Traffic signs, traffic light signals and ground markings are one thing, but hand signals from police officers are another. Already a few days ago, police officers in Phoenix failed to break up a traffic jam caused by several Waymos because they apparently couldn’t follow hand signals, and so too in a new video. You can see, from the perspective of passengers in a driverless Waymo, a patrol officer getting off his motorcycle to use hand signals to tell the Waymo which direction to go. But the Waymo reacts hesitantly or not at all, much to the obvious frustration of the law enforcement officer.

But Waymos do know how to respond to hand signals, as a video taken seven years ago shows. Here, I was about to cross the street with a friend working at Waymo at the time when one of the Firefly vehicles drove by. My friend raised his hand in salute to his colleagues, but the car makes a short sharp braking before moving on.

With the growing number of robotaxis and robotaxi fleets, hand signals from authorized people are also becoming increasingly important. The British company Humanising Autonomy, for example, is dedicated to creating a gesture database for autonomous cars.


Waymo reached out and gave some more background to the situation as well as their efforts on gesture recognition for autonomous cars:

  • Understanding other road user gestures is an important area we’ve made a lot of great progress in over the years. From a traffic officer using hand signals to direct vehicles to a construction worker holding a stop sign, we’re using advanced ML models to prepare the Waymo Driver to detect and respond to these situations. In this particular case, the Waymo vehicle reversed and successfully maneuvered out of the blocked lane within 90 seconds after the interaction with the police officer. 
  • More information about one of the key technologies that we use to determine a person’s orientation, gesture, and hand signals is available on Waymo’s blog here.

This article was also published in German.

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