Two Waymo Self-Driving Taxi Crashes Lead to Software Recall

The recall is the first for the self-driving taxi company after two of its vehicles crash into the same truck

Graham Hope

February 15, 2024

2 Min Read
Chevrolet Cruise autonomous vehicles sit parked in a lot on June 08, 2023 in San Francisco, California
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Waymo has confirmed it issued a “recall” to update software in its self-driving taxis after two of its AVs came into contact with a pick-up truck that was being towed in Phoenix, Arizona.

The news was confirmed in a blog post on Waymo’s website attributed to the company’s chief safety officer, Mauricio Peña. 

The incidents were described as a “rare scenario” by Peña, who added they resulted in no injuries and minor vehicle damage.

The software recall is the first carried out by Waymo.

Peña explained how the collisions, which happened on Dec. 11, came about, describing a scenario where a backward-facing pick-up truck was being “improperly towed” by a tow truck ahead of a Waymo vehicle, causing it to be “persistently angled across a center turn lane and a traffic lane.”

This caused the robotaxi to come into contact with the pick-up truck, although when contact was made, the tow truck did not stop. A few minutes later, a separate Waymo AV made contact with the same pick-up, which was still being towed in the same fashion.

Neither Waymo taxi was carrying riders at the time.

Keen to establish what had happened, Waymo says it immediately set out to investigate the circumstances behind the incidents, and its team eventually concluded that “due to the persistent orientation mismatch of the towed pick-up truck and tow truck combination, the Waymo AV incorrectly predicted the future motion of the towed vehicle.”

A fix was subsequently developed and tested, with updates commencing on Dec. 20. Although the term “recall” is used to describe the solution, all remedial work was carried out remotely via a software upgrade.

Given the disastrous fall from grace of chief rival Cruise, accused of failing to be transparent after one of its self-driving taxis was involved in an incident in October in San Francisco, Waymo has understandably been keen to emphasize that it has followed the correct procedures to the letter.

Both the Phoenix Police Department and Arizona Department of Public Safety were informed about the collisions on the day they happened, and Waymo says it had regular dialogue with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) before deciding that it should file a voluntary recall report.

However, confirmation of the software update comes at a tricky time for Waymo, with media scrutiny of the AV industry at arguably its highest-ever level amid widespread public skepticism. 

A week ago, a Waymo self-driving taxi was attacked and set alight by a mob at San Francisco’s Lunar New Year celebrations, following an incident a few days before when one of the firm’s vehicles had been in collision with a cyclist.

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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