Waymo recalls software after two crashes in Phoenix

Waymo, the self-driving car company owned by Alphabet, has voluntarily recalled its software that was used in its driverless vehicles, after two of its cars collided with a towed pickup truck in Phoenix, Arizona. The company said it updated the software to better predict the movement of towed vehicles, and that the recall did not affect its ride-hailing service.

Waymo filed a voluntary recall notice with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Tuesday, informing the public of a software update that it began to deploy across its fleet in December 2023. The recall was based on the company’s own analysis and consultation with NHTSA, following two incidents that occurred in Phoenix on December 11, 2023.

According to Waymo, the two incidents involved two of its robotaxis crashing into the same pickup truck that was being towed by another truck in an improper manner, such that the pickup truck was angled across a center turn lane and a traffic lane. The company said that its automated driving system (ADS) incorrectly predicted the future motion of the towed vehicle, resulting in minor vehicle damage and no injuries. The company also said that no passengers were in the vehicles at the time of the collisions.

Waymo said it informed the Phoenix Police Department, the Arizona Department of Public Safety, and NHTSA of the incidents shortly after they happened, and that it engaged in several conversations with NHTSA staff on the topic between December 2023 and February 2024.

Waymo updates software to address rare issue

Waymo said it developed, tested, and validated a fix for the software issue, and that it started to deploy the software update to its fleet on December 20, 2023. The company said the update was completed by January 12, 2024, and that it did not interrupt its ride-hailing service, Waymo One, which operates in Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin.

Waymo said the software update addressed the rare issue of predicting the future motion of a towed vehicle, and that it enhanced the Waymo Driver’s capabilities through regular software updates. The company said it took its responsibility to safely deploy its technology and to transparently communicate with the public seriously, and that it respected the importance of the road safety framework and its legal obligations.

Waymo faces public backlash over driverless vehicles

Waymo’s voluntary recall comes amid growing public backlash over driverless vehicles and how they are tested and rolled out on public roads. The company has faced several lawsuits, protests, and vandalism from drivers, pedestrians, and residents who are concerned about the safety, privacy, and impact of automation on their jobs and communities.

Waymo has generally faced less criticism than its competitors, such as Cruise, which is owned by GM, and Uber, which sold its self-driving unit to Aurora in 2021. Waymo has been praised for its public affairs communications with agencies like NHTSA and local first responders, and for its extensive testing and data collection.

Waymo says it has driven 10 million fully autonomous miles and served over one million ride-hail trips. However, in the fourth quarter of 2023, the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended the deployment and testing permits it had previously issued to Cruise, citing safety violations and public complaints.

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